(EDMONTON, AB) Fourth-year outside hitter Irvan Brar finished with a tournament-high 26 kills, leading the No. 3 UBC Thunderbirds to a four-set quarter-final win (25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17) over the No. 6 UNB Varsity Reds, Friday night, at the U SPORTS men's volleyball championship, in Edmonton.
The win sends the Thunderbirds to the semi-finals, and a meeting with the host, and seventh-seeded Alberta Golden Bears. UNB falls into the consolation bracket, and will take on the No. 2 Manitoba Bisons on Saturday.
Along with Brar's 26 kills, UBC received contributions from Cam Fennema (15 kills, one dig), and Byron Keturakis (game-high 52 assists, two aces). Brar also added two digs, and was named UBC Player of the Match.
Eivind Andersen (Sandnes, NOR) led the Varsity Reds with 17 kills, also chipping in with a game-high 11 digs, and was the UNB Player of the Match.
"I thought we were good at times tonight. I don't think we served as well as we normally do, and our serve receive also wasn't as crisp. But, it is the first match at nationals - we got some of those jitters out, we are getting more and more comfortable playing in this facility," said UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald. "I expect both of those aspects of our game to be a little better tomorrow."
Brar was absolutely lethal in the opening set, ripping in 10 kills on a staggering 18 attempts, while Fennema added four.
"Irvan has been a consummate leader for us," continued MacDonald. "He does that on the regular. He's the kind of guy who rises to the occasion, and he did it again tonight."
Despite being the heavy underdog on Friday, UNB kept the first set tight, earning a solid 13 kills on 29 attempts. But the effort from Brar was too much to overcome, as UBC took the first set 25-22.
"I thought we played at a pretty good level. Do I think we played our best ball? No. At times we played a very efficient game, and the blocks were fairly even between both teams," UNB coach Dan McMorran commented after the game. "I thought we played at a pretty good level, but our defence needed to make a few more dig at a few key times. They're a good blocking team, so when we are out of system, we are hitting against a very big team. All in all, we are disappointed, we aren't playing in the semi-final, but I thought it was a pretty good level of (volleyball) for fans tonight."
That level from UNB was evident early in the second, as they raced out to a surprising 8-1 lead. Despite three kills from Andersen, the Varsity Reds couldn't maintain their strong offence in the second, eventually falling 25-20. Eight attack errors, to go along with a -0.45 attack percentage, and six more kills from Brar contributed to the set win for UBC.
The teams played incredibly even volleyball in the third, exchanging massive back-row attacks. Andersen added seven kills to his total, while Sam Alves (Melbourne, AUS) chipped in four in a set that saw 13 ties. The sixth-seeded Varsity Reds improved their attack by over 600 points in the third, as they clawed their way to a scrappy 25-22 win.
However, the high-flying Thunderbirds were too much for UNB to overcome, falling in the fourth set. UBC's defence also played a massive role in the fourth set, scoring on three blocks, while limiting UNB to just nine fourth-set kills. UBC finished with 65 kills on Friday to UNB's 48.
UBC will now face a familiar foe in the national semi-final, and the same team they met in last week's Canada West bronze medal match. UBC was able to capture the conference medal with a deceive 3-0 win at Manitoba, in their second win over Alberta this season.
"We played them last week, and were successful." continued MacDonald. "We are definitely going to have to go back and look and see what we did well that night, and build off of that. They are a great team and I am expecting a great match."