The UBC women’s volleyball team entered the 2022/23 season nationals as the seventh-seeded team, and, in an underdog upset, toppled the top-ranked Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans for national gold.
Despite this, the Thunderbirds were only ranked third in Canada West (CW) going into the 2023/24 season.
But that hasn’t stopped them from dominating CW, only dropping two games this season — one against the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades and one against the University of Manitoba Bisons, both in five set thrillers.
The team started the season swinging, sweeping the Mount Royal University Cougars in straight sets on the home opener weekend. That weekend hasn’t been the only time the ‘Birds have swept their competition, rather, they’ve had seven weekend sweeps this season so far.
Women’s volleyball head coach Doug Reimer said the team has seen success through adversity throughout the season.
“When you look at our record, we've done a nice job in terms of wins and losses. I would say one of the key things for that has been … the contributions of lots of different people as we've had injuries or changed our lineup,” said Reimer in an interview with The Ubyssey. “We were able to find ways to get the job done. I think we're proud of that.”
The court has seen both familiar and unfamiliar faces heat up the court. Outside hitters Lucy Borowski, Katarina Pantovic and Akash Grewal lead the team in kills with 167, 134 and 129, respectively. Middles Claire Cossarini and Emma Doyon have put up 61 and 60 blocks, respectively. Grewal leads the team in aces with 47 and is followed by Borowski with 31.
Second-year outside hitter Elizabeth Lee — who had stand-out performances in December — boasts a 0.315 hitting percentage, the highest out of the team’s underclassmen. Kacey Jost, the CW 2022/23 Libero of the Year, leads the team in digs with 210.
The entire team is as strong at the net as they are on the service line and behind the attack line, and Borowski sticks out as a key player, leading the team in two categories and putting up as many blocks as the team’s starting middles.
Setting the tone for the team’s offense is second-year setter Issy Robertshaw, who’s put up 520 assists with 8.39 assists per set for the Thunderbirds. Robertshaw keeps the team’s tempo high, and her ability to keep their opponents on their toes through her smart plays and steady serve makes her one to watch out for in the season’s second-half.
“I think this year, I've definitely taken on a lot bigger roles as a starting player,” said Robertshaw. “It's really fun to be able to control the offence and … control the game.”
Reimer and Robertshaw both said the team will face a tough second-half of the season, going against Lower Mainland rival TWU and the Bisons whose outside hitter Raya Surinx leads both CW and U Sports in kills and kills per set with 309 kills this season.
Regardless, Reimer attributed the team’s current success to its depth, but that doesn’t mean he’s not continuing to coach his athletes to be the best they can be.
“I think our depth has been important the first half [of the season] and I'm sure it will be moving forward,” said Reimer. “But our league is so competitive, and we've got tough matches. We can still finish anywhere from first overall to not even hosting in the first round of the playoffs. We can't rest on what's currently a good level given the tough opponents we have coming up.”