Thunderbirds beat Spartans for thirteenth national title

Seventh-seeded UBC women’s volleyball defeated top-seeded Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans in five sets to win the program’s 13th national championship on Sunday night.

The sold out game hosted over 2,000 attendees, with a mix of UBC and TWU supporters. In the UBC crowd were alumni in Big Block sweaters, the men’s volleyball team with t-shirts sporting the women’s team’s faces, and many more supporters in blue and gold face paint.

After losing to the Spartans three times in five sets this season, the pressure was on the ‘Birds. They started the first set slow, with a series of attack errors and a pair of Spartan aces, but a kill by UBC’s Erika Vermette followed by two blocks from middle blocker Cara Kovacs changed the pace of the game for the ‘Birds.

UBC supporters brought as much passion to the game as the Thunderbirds did, erupting in cheers — chanting “You can’t do that,” after Spartan errors and banging on bright orange Home Depot buckets — after each rally.

The connection between T-Bird setter Kayla Oxland and the front row brought success to the ‘Birds throughout the championship game, with the first set culminating in a kill from Kovacs to take the set 25–23.

Elise Petit swings cross-court.
Elise Petit swings cross-court. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

The second set started off rough for the T-Birds. Attack errors, a Spartan ace and kills dug UBC into a 11–2 deficit early in the set. But, kills from Akash Grewal, Elise Petit and Kovacs brought momentum back to the ‘Birds, tightening up the gap to 23–20. Another kill from Kovacs, followed by a block from Kovacs and Brynn Pasin stole match point away from the Spartans twice, but a monster kill by TWU’s Kaylee Plouffe sealed the deal at 25–22 and left the ‘Birds hungry for a win.

The momentum TWU built up in the second set slowed down in the third, with neither team able to pull away with a lead. The teams never held more than a two point lead until an untimely attack error by Pasin brought the Spartans to their first lead this set, which eventually finished with with a Mealy kill off of a Komlodi set, forcing UBC to drop the third 25–21.

Spartan outside hitter Meaghan Mealey racked up five kills during the set and setter Dora Komlodi boasted a team-high fifty-two assists and twenty-one digs.

Another Spartan’s run kicked off the fourth set, but the ‘Birds brought the heat — led by steady serving from Jayde Robertsen and a series of Petit kills — to go on an eight point run. But, the Spartans came back and the two teams stayed close with each other until a series of TWU attack errors allowed UBC to catch up. An Issy Robertshaw set to Petit brought home the fourth set for the Thunderbirds, 25–18.

T-Birds bench celebrates a point in the fifth set.
T-Birds bench celebrates a point in the fifth set. Iman Janmohamed / The Ubyssey

Tensions in the War Memorial Gym were high going into the fifth set, with Spartan and Thunderbird fans going back and forth with cheers and noise-makers. Both teams stayed close with each other, but a Lucy Borowski kill brought the ‘Birds to double digits in the race to 15 points. This set in motion the rest of the set, with UBC pushing five straight points, coming from two Oxland aces, a Petit kill and a Vermette kill.

Thunderbird match point started with an Oxland serve, forcing the Spartans to send over a free-ball amid the crowd’s bells, whistles and horns. Oxland dished to Petit, and she hit off the block, but TWU’s Savannah Purdy was ready with the cross court dig. A tip from Spartan Ansah Odoom put the ‘Birds in trouble, but Vermette was there to pick up the ball, allowing Oxland to chuck a butter set, and Petit to get a career-high 20 kills and clinch the national championship, 15–12.

This is the second time UBC has won U Sports volleyball national gold at home, the first being in 1974.

The crowd burst into cheers as the women’s volleyball team celebrated their 15–12 fifth set win. Vermette jumped for joy on court, Jost and Oxland immediately fell to their knees and Pasin turned around to her team off the court to welcome them into the huddle. As the UBC bench ran to the court, members of the men’s volleyball team joined in on the fun, hugging their fellow T-Birds.

Jost led the team’s defense with 25 digs while Petit and Kovacs led the ‘Bird’s in kills with 20 and 13, respectively. Robertsen had 9 kills on 16 attempts boasting a hitting percentage of .500, the highest of both teams that night.

Kacey Jost celebrates her second U Sports national title.
Kacey Jost celebrates her second U Sports national title. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

“It was freaking crazy,” said Petit about the win. “To put in all this hard work for the whole year, but especially the last few weeks [and] to come in as the seventh-seed and to go take it all the way [is] just a crazy feeling. I feel like I need to pinch myself.”

And to the fans and loved ones, Petit had one thing to say: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. We could never have done this without you.”

Head coach Doug Reimer echoed Petit and said playing this game at home was special for the team because of “all our fans, alumni, supporters are able to share, and almost will us, to victory.”

And Reimer, who won his ninth national championship with UBC, reminisced on past wins — “Nothing’s gonna top this,” he said. “It never gets old.”

The T-Birds lift the program's 13th national title.
The T-Birds lift the program's 13th national title. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

As the crowd’s buzzing subsided, medals were handed out of the ‘Birds and the names of the athletes were read aloud. When the announcer got to outside hitter Akash Grewal’s name, he paused and mentioned she wanted him to wish her mother a happy birthday.

This is Grewal’s first university national championship win, and she worked as a steady force on the court with a .286 attack percentage, with 1 error on 7 swings.

“We brought ourselves together when we needed to most,” she said.

And when it comes to winning gold, Am Grewal, Akash’s mother, said it “feels absolutely amazing.”

“This was the only thing I asked Akash for — a gold medal,” said Am while smiling at her daughter. “And she delivered with her team, so I can’t explain to you in words how happy I am.”