By Aaron Martin
VANCOUVER — The UBC Thunderbirds men's volleyball team fell 3–1 at the hands of the Saskatchewan Huskies on Saturday night, as the visitors completed their weekend sweep at War Memorial Gym.
The final set scores read 25-20, 25-21, 23-25, 25-23
Senior outside hitter Jordan Nowakowski was the focal point of the Saskatchewan attack, notching a game-high 19 kills, and putting up an attack efficiency mark of 0.424. Another senior, Andrew Nelson, picked up 10 kills for the Huskies.
As for the 'Birds, third-year attacker Irvan Brar had 14 kills to lead the club, adding a game-high 13 digs. Mat Guidi added 11 kills for the Blue and Gold, while senior Alex Russell had eight on just 15 attempts, and had five blocks.
The first set was tight up until midway though, as the Huskies and 'Birds went back-and-forth until the scoreboard read 16-16.
It was then that the Huskies began to create some separation, as a 7-1 run, including a huge block and an ace from Nelson, put them firmly in the driver's seat, up 23-17.
The T-Birds did well to get the next three points, a stretch that saw Russell pick up two kills, but the Saskatchewan lead proved too large to overcome, as they took the set 25-23.
The second set didn't start out much better for the home side, as Saskatchewan started the frame on a 5-2 run.
The 'Birds did well to rebound, emphatically tying the contest at 10-10as a long rally turned into a kill from Mac McNicol. Senior setter Milan Nikic delivered a brilliant assist on the play.
With the two sides even up at 14-14, Nikic showed off his soccer skills, as, on the third touch with the ball behind him, he stretched out and kicked the ball over his head and managed to clear the net. Spectacular as it was, the play eventually died in vain, as the Huskies ended up with the point.
The visitors opened up a five-point leadat 21-16, forcing Schick to call for a timeout. The 'Birds seemed to settle down a bit after that, as they took three of the next four points to close the gap to 22-19.
After a Joel Regehr block and a contested Guidi block that went the 'Birds way, a kill from Colin Fraser put the Huskies on the brink, and Nowakowski finished the set off on the next ball, picking up the kill to get his Huskies the 25-21 win.
The third set closely contested, with the two sides battling to a 7-7 stalemate.
On the next point, a great rally between the two sides ended in the Huskies favour, as an attempted kill from Guidi just missed the right sideline.
The 'Birds then reeled off three straight points of their own to take an 11-9 lead, their first two-point lead of the match to that point.
The Huskies retook the lead, 14-13, on a center-line violation from Brar, and carried a 16-14 advantage into the technical timeout.
A couple of big men helped the 'Birds tie it up once more, as a Russell drop shot and another Regehr block led to a 16-16 contest.
With the two sides knotted up at 23-23Nikic stepped up to the backline and dropped in a terrific serve, forcing the ensuing return well wide of the sideline.
The 'Birds got the 25-23 decision on the next ball, thanks to the lanky arms of another senior, as Russell knocked down the set-winning block off ofNelson.
After a 5-5 start to the fourth frame, the T-Birds seemed to get into a groove, as they ripped off a 5-1 run to take a solid 10-6 lead.
The Huskies closed the gap slightly, but UBC still held a two-point advantage at the technical timeout, up 16-14.
A 4-1 Huskies run led to a 22-22 deadlock, before a kill from Nelson, and the following ace from Nowakowski, put the Huskies at match point.
Guidi staved off one kept the game going for a moment, with a kill, but Nowakowski delivered the final blow on the next play, giving the Huskies the 25-23 set, and the match.
The 'Birds (12-10) will need to rebound next week, as they're currently hanging on to the final playoff spot by a thread, with the Mt. Royal Cougars (11-11) within striking distance.
Next weekend's two-game series against the Trinity Western Spartans in Langley, B.C. will determine the T-Birds' post-season fate.
Trinity Western and Saskatchewan are both tied for fifth at 13-9. The Huskies host last-place Regina (2-20) next weekend to finish out the regular season. The teams in second, third and fourth at the conclusion of Canada West league play will get to host quarter-final series in the post-season.