UBC Thunderbirds' middle Joel Rehehr (right) and setter Byron Keturakis flash the emotion of a national semifinal match which givers the 'Birds a shot at their first U Sports crown in 35 years on Sunday. (Photo by Rick Vazulak, McMaster athletics)
Feature University Men's Volleyball

‘Birds first title since ’83, or Spartans’ threepeat? It’s UBC vs. Trinity Western for U Sports national men’s volleyball spoils!

Hey volleyball fans, get out your history books because Sunday’s U Sports men’s volleyball national championship final is going to be all about the excellence of the sport in B.C. …no matter what ends up happening.

“I know a lot about that team,” chuckled UBC Thunderbirds head coach Kerry MacDonald on Saturday night from the championship site at Hamilton’s McMaster University, of the ‘Birds crosstown rivals from Langley, the Trinity Western Spartans.

All of this came in the moments after the second-year boss led his ‘Birds to a 3-1 (25-17, 25-18, 22-25, 25-20) win over the Alberta Golden Bears in the national semifinals, setting up the highly-anticipated all-B.C. derby against Langley’s two-time defending champion Trinity Western Spartans on Sunday (1 p.m PDT).

“I’ve watched them a lot,” continued MacDonald of the Spartans, who earned the right to annex a third straight national title after their own tooth-and-nail 3-1 (18-25, 25-23, 25-15, 26-24) win over the host McMaster Marauders at Burridge Gym. “We will be prepared. We know what to expect from them. It will be a battle and they are a great team. We’re fortunate to get an opportunity to battle a team of that calibre, and that we get to do it for a gold medal.”

UBC’s Byron Keturakis earned Player of the Match honours with seven aces.

And all of this sets up a championship script which couldn’t get any better.

UBC, enjoying a renaissance under MacDonald, has not won the national title since 1983.

Trinity Western is trying to become U Sports’ first men’s volleyball program to win three straight national crowns since Winnipeg won four straight from 1970-71 through 1973-74. They are also trying to become the first program ever to win Canada West conference and U Sports national titles concurrently in three straight seasons.

As well, the two teams split their two meetings this season.

UBC won 3-1 at the Langley Events Centre over TWU on Feb. 9, but the Spartans traveled to War Gym the next night and beat UBC 3-2 on their own floor.

MacDonald saw a lot of good signs Saturday against Alberta.

“I think it showed some of the character and resiliency in our group,” he said of coming back from a loss in the third set to win it all in the fourth.

“I don’t think we’ve showed it as well as I believed that we’ve had it within ourselves,” he continued. “We hadn’t had that yet, so to it was great to step up and perform like that in the fourth after losing in the third.”

TWU Spartans (left to right) Ben Lieuwen, Pearson Eshenko,, Adam Schriemer, Carter Bergen, Eric Loeppky and Jacob Kern celebrate national semifinal win over McMaster. They face UBC for national spoils on Sunday at 1 p.m. (Photo by Scott Stewart property of Trinity Western athletics)

The Spartans are the much more season group when it comes to the Saturday semi-final drill yet McMaster came ready to play.

“When you have all of that talent on one court on a stage this big, a great match is bound to happen,” saud TWU head coach Ben Josephson, whose match preceded UBC’s on Saturday. “(McMaster was) so prepared for us and they play a lot like us: fast, high, great defence, tough serving. So it’s like playing our own team in practice. When that style happens, it’s always going to be a great match, especially in this gym, because the fans are awesome here.”

Josephson gave all the credit to the Marauders for their first set win.

“I don’t think we struggled at all tonight,” he said. “I think it was fully about how great Mac was in the first set. They hit .350 and bombed serves against us. We couldn’t pass a lick against that. What we adjusted was that we messed with the depth of our reception lines. And then we got some better touches.”

Eric Loeppky led TWU with 23 kills, Pearson Eshenko had nine kills from his middle blocker spot and hit at a .750 percentage, while setter Adam Schreimer had 51 assists.

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