Thunderbirds defeat Bisons, advance to national championship

UBC women’s volleyball defeated the sixth-seeded University of Manitoba Bisons in four sets on Saturday night.

The crowd was electric, filled with parents in blue and gold, a small but mighty Manitoba cheer squad, students in floral shirts and supporters clad in T-shirts with the faces of the women’s team. A chorus of T-Bird cheers, often led by Crazy P, accompanied each serve, pass, set, hit and block, bringing the hype to the War Memorial Gym.

Coltyn Liu, fifth-year outside hitter for the men’s volleyball team was one of the crowd members sporting the face T-shirts.

The idea came to Liu after talking to men’s basketball player Brian Wallack. The pair thought of bringing floating head posters to the games, but Liu had a change of heart, thinking, “Why don’t we just put it on shirts, so we can wear them?”

“We started with five yesterday, and then it got pretty popular,” said Liu. “Now we’re up to 13 or 14 of them — we might have more tomorrow.”

T-Birds fans led by men's volleyball players Coltyn Liu and Matt Neaves show their support for the women's team.
T-Birds fans led by men's volleyball players Coltyn Liu and Matt Neaves show their support for the women's team. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

Though the ‘Birds won in four, the Bisons didn’t hold back. Freshman superstar Raya Surinx pulled out all the stops with 14 kills and a nasty jump-spin serve to boot. Surinx, along with Bisons setter Katreena Bentley and libero Julia Arnold, brought the Manitoba squad to a set one victory, beating the ‘Birds 25–20.

However, losing wasn’t an option for the Thunderbirds, and they made their presence known on the court in the sets to come.

The T-Birds’ first chance at a set point came after a kill by graduating senior Jayde Robertsen from a butter set from first-year Canada West all-rookie team member Issy Robertshaw. Surinx fired back with a kill, bringing the score to 24–20, for the ‘Birds. An untimely attack error from Surinx brought the Bisons their set two loss, 25–20.

The crowd cheered while Robertsen set the tone for the third set with a service ace. The set was close, with no more than four points between teams until the T-Birds broke away with a Bisons service error, Robertsen kill and Surinx attack error. This momentum followed the Thunderbirds through the end of the set, leaving the Bisons in the dust, 25–16.

A string of Bisons errors brought the ‘Birds close to victory in the fourth set. Yet another Robertsen kill forced Manitoba to call a timeout to recalibrate at 14–9, for UBC. After the timeout, the ‘Birds didn’t stop swinging, with a slew of kills and smart plays. After two monster blocks by second-year Lucy Borowski and Robertsen, the Thunderbirds secured a fourth set win, 25–14, and the chance to go for gold on home soil for the first time since 1974.

Bisons block Jayde Robertsen's middle attack.
Bisons block Jayde Robertsen's middle attack. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

Kacey Jost, fourth-year Canada West libero of the year and player of the game, led the team’s defense with 21 digs, giving the front row the chance to attack. Meanwhile, Robertsen garnered a total of 7 blocks, 4 aces and had 14 kills on 21 attempts boasting a hitting percentage of .534, the highest of both teams tonight.

When asked about her team-high 14 kills, Robertsen said she felt “ecstatic.”

“You can't dream this up — last season, national final,” said Robertson. “I’m just excited to be with my team. It’s huge. I’ve 23 best friends with me, so that’s all you can ask for.”

Jost echoed Robertson: “I’m buzzing. I’m ready to go, I know all of the girls are ready to go,” she said. “This group is super special and we’ve been here grinding … to be able to do it with this group means a lot to me.”

And when it comes to being named player of the game, Jost said it was a team win.

“At the end of the day, as long as we come out with a win, whoever’s grabbing that water bottle deserves it … I can’t do my job correctly if everyone else around me isn’t working just as hard.”

The team put their hands together in celebration of their win.
The team put their hands together in celebration of their win. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

While Jost and Robertson led the ‘Birds on the court tonight, UBC head coach Doug Reimer is the man behind the team, off the court.

Tomorrow’s game is Reimer’s chance to win his ninth national championship with UBC, and the program’s thirteenth overall. The last time the team took home gold was in 2019 against the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold.

“We had a really tough first round [in 2019] … we were the eight seed,” said Reimer.

“I think this time, we’ve got a more balanced overall offence, you know, we’re playing at home,” he said. “But, you never know what’s gonna happen … As much as you want to script everything and say it’s going to be a certain way, every match is different, so we’ve got to be flexible and adaptable in the moment.”

UBC will face off against Canada West conference rival and number one seed, Trinity Western University Spartans at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the War Memorial Gym.

Isabella Falsetti photographer

Environment & sustainability, Class of 2023

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