The Thunderbirds’ men’s volleyball team has won just two matches in 12 outings this year and sits second-to-last in the 12-team Canada West Conference.
Mike Dowhaniuk may not be a mastermind prankster, but he feels like he’s got some ability in that area.
As a student in the University of B.C. engineering program, famed as much for its technically sound grads as its epic pranks, he’ll need it. And he’ll especially need a sense of humour as a member of the Thunderbirds’ men’s volleyball team, which has won just two matches in 12 outings this year and sits second-to-last in the 12-team Canada West Conference.
The defending champions lost four players to pro contracts in Europe — graduating seniors Irvan Brar and Keith West, as well as Fynn McCarthy and U SPORTS national championship MVP Byron Keturakis — and dropped the first seven games of the season.
“He’s one of those guys who can’t stop smiling on the court,” said coach Mike Hawkins. That type of positivity and optimism is infectious for our group.”
Dowhaniuk has been a ray of sunshine in a gloomy season thus far, as the Semiahmoo grad — and 2016 provincial champion — has lit up the stats sheet. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder leads the team in points per set (2.9) and sits sixth in the conference in solo blocks (nine).
The high-flying outside hitter, who is coming off a summer captaining the junior national team, has made the transition to CIS volleyball seamlessly.
“The amount that I’ve been playing this year has been outstanding. I wasn’t coming into this year expecting to play a big role on the court,” said the White Rock native. “And just seeing the competition and the amount of skills that people have in this league, and thinking, ‘That could be me one day.’ My all-around skills have improved tremendously, with the coaching and support staff here.”
The T-Birds return to league action — they just returned from a trip to Hawaii to face the Rainbow Warriors — this weekend when they host the MacEwan Griffins on Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (6:30 p.m.) at War Memorial Gym.
Hawkins feels like his young team won’t be held back by their early season results.
“Looking back, I don’t know if we had the understanding of how long it would take this young group to piece it all together. And in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. It would be naive to think they know what it means to win in this conference,” he said. “We’re giving them the understanding that this is a process. If you’re completely results-oriented, then it’s going to seem like it’s a giant mountain to climb. But if we can be present every day with the work that we need to do, we just need to take those small steps to climb that mountain.
“With a younger group, it’s so imperative to continue to get better, not just for this year, but to be prepared to win in their second, third, fourth years.”
UBC STARS OF THE WEEK
1. Keylyn Filewich, forward, women’s basketball: UBC’s scoring leader had a tremendous start to 2019, with a combined 52 points and a pair of double-doubles to lead the Thunderbirds to a weekend sweep over the visiting UBC Okanagan Heat. Filewich hit the 20-point mark for the third time this Canada West season Friday to lead the T-Birds. She also tied for the team lead in total rebounds with 10, her fifth double-double of the season while shooting 58.3 per cent from the field. The third-year forward from Winnipeg followed up with yet an even more impressive performance Saturday, draining a career-high 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting (68.4 per cent) while adding another 10 rebounds. Now up to 17.7 points per game, seventh in Canada West, Filewich leads the conference in offensive rebounds (58) and field-goal percentage (60). Filewich and the Thunderbirds have won five games in a row to improve to 8-4 on the season, good for sixth place in the conference. UBC faces Lower Mainland rivals the Trinity Western Spartans for a pair of contests in Langley this Friday and Saturday.
2. Grant Shephard, forward, men’s basketball: The reigning Canada West Rookie of the Year put up back-to-back 19-point efforts as part of a dominant overall team performance against the UBC Okanagan Heat over the weekend. Shephard’s 19 points Friday led all players, while doing so with an incredible 90-per-cent field goal percentage along with five defensive rebounds as the second-year forward got the job done at both ends of the court. The Kelowna native followed up with another 19-point effort Saturday, along with 10 total rebounds, for his first double-double of the Canada West season. Shephard currently sits fifth in the conference in total blocks as well as offensive rebounds, while leading Canada West with a 64.3 field-goal percentage. The Thunderbirds are on a roll having won 10 straight games and sit second in the conference at 11-1. The T-Birds are in Langley next weekend to take on the Trinity Western Spartans.
3. Kiera Van Ryk, left-side hitter, women’s volleyball: The 2018 U SPORTS rookie of the year just keeps getting the job done for the T-Birds. The second-year outside hitter from Surrey put up career-highs in kills (25) and points (32.5) in Saturday’s four-set win over the Mount Royal Cougars in Calgary. Van Ryk is dominating Canada West so far this season, leading in kills per set (4.68), total kills (248) and service aces (41). After starting the season 0-3, the T-Birds have won five of their last six matches and their 8-6 record is good for fourth in the conference. UBC hosts the MacEwan Griffins on Friday and Saturday at War Memorial Gym for their first home matches of 2019.
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