EDMONTON – After dropping the first set, the second-seed University of Alberta Golden Bears rebound to defeat the third-seed UBC Thunderbirds by a 3-1 score (17-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-20) in Game 3 of the Canada West best-of-three semifinal series, Sunday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
With the win, Alberta will advance to the one-game Canada West Final to face the first-seed Trinity Western Spartans next weekend, while also qualifying for the U SPORTS Championship for their 20th consecutive season.
“I’m super proud of them, they did an incredible job,” said Alberta head coach Brock Davidiuk after his team’s semifinal win. “Even though we lost the first set, by a lot, I thought we started to play so much better and we had to; UBC is such a good team. I’m just so proud of our guys.”
Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds will see their season come to an end, after going 17-5 during the regular season and 3-2 in the post-season.
Leading the way to victory was Bears first-year outside hitter Billy Johnstone, who finished the night with 12 kills, alongside third-year outside hitter Jackson Kennedy, who also had 12 kills. Fourth-year setter Max Elgert recorded 40 assists.
Across the court, second-year outside hitter Michael Dowhaniuk lead the ‘Birds with 15 kills, while third-year setter Ben Hooker added 37 assists.
“The series as whole, I thought was a good battle. I liked the way we came out with some aggression in the first set,” said Thunderbirds head coach Mike Hawkins. “Credit goes to the U of A; I though they really stabilized in their serve-receive and they are a really efficient team in their system.”
It was all UBC in the first set, jumping out to a quick 5-1 lead, forcing Alberta to use both of their timeouts before the technical. However, the ‘Birds would continue to roll to a 25-17 set win.
Looking to not drop a second-straight set, the Bears regrouped, exploding to a 7-2 lead early and found themselves up 16-12 at the technical timeout. UBC would come within a single point of the Bears multiple times throughout the set, but they were still unable to take the lead, with the Bears maintaining control and tying the game at one set apiece.
Leading the majority of the third set was UBC, before Alberta tied it at 14-all. Johnstone’s kill down the middle would be the turning factor of the set, as the Bears took their first lead, 15-14. From then on, Alberta would not look back and another Johnstone’s kill would position the Bears one set away from the conference finals.
It would be a rough start to the fourth frame, with three of four opening serves going into the net before either team could grab a hold of the set. It remained a back-and-forth battle throughout, as UBC fought to remain alive, but at the technical timeout it was the home squad with a 16-12 lead. Alberta would prevail, with George Hobern and Jordan Canham combining for the final block and sending the Bears to the conference finals.
“I think the big thing from here on out is that there is a really small difference between being good and being great and we have to find that,” added Davidiuk as he looks forward to next week’s match-up.
Next weekend, the Bears will head west to face the Spartans, while looking to claim a record 15th conference title.
Mikasa Players of the Match: ALB – Billy Johnstone; UBC – Matt Neaves