A team record for victories, a first-place finish, and home court advantage for the Canada West women’s volleyball championship.
There isn’t much more head coach Steve Manuel could have asked from his No. 1-ranked UBC Okanagan Heat during the 2015-16 regular season.
The hometown Heat closed out its schedule with a two-match sweep of the Mount Royals Cougars on the weekend, to finish atop the conference with a program-best 22-2 record.
More importantly, the Heat will have a week off before hosting the Canada West Final Four for the first time in their five-year CIS history, March 4 and 5 at the Kelowna campus gym.
“It’s really been a storybook season for us,” said Manuel. “We lost only two matches, both in the fifth set, and found a way to win every other match we played.
“Getting to host gives us that bye, it’s like winning a quarterfinal without playing it, so now we have a 10-day lead-up where we can get the rest we need, and also train hard to be well prepared for that semifinal.”
Prior to Saturday’s match, the Heat honoured its six graduating players who were playing the last regular season home games of their careers—Breanna Beamish, Katelyn DeJong, Kailin Jones, Chandler Proch, Katy Klomps and Katie Wuttunee.
For Wuttunee and her fellow grads, winning the conference title and hosting the Final Four are the undisputed highlights of their careers to date. Still, the fifth-year middle assures the Heat’s work is far from over.
“I think that I can answer for all of us when I say (winning Canada West) probably is (the biggest moment),” Wuttunee said. “I think we still have our sights set further, so it’s hard to think of this as the final, best thing that we’ve accomplished. I think that we’re gonna go further.”
Since those six grads played their first matches five seasons ago, the women’s program has been on a remarkable upward trajectory ever since.
“When these six players first came to our program, we hadn’t played a single CIS match,” Manuel said. “(After Saturday’s match) they stood there with their teammates as the No. 1 team with a Canada West title and only two losses. To do that after five short years is unheard of, and a real credit to all our players.”
On Friday, the Heat officially clinched the regular season title with a 3-0 win over Mount Royal (25-17, 25-26, 26-24).
Megan Festival had 11 kills while Beamish added 10. Emily Oxland led the match in assists with 26.
On Saturday, more of the same in a 3-0 win (25-18, 25-13, 25-18). Proch was named the player of the match with a match high 23 assists. Wuttunee had 11 kills, while Beamish added eight kills 14 digs.
The Heat will host the Canada West semifinal at the UBCO gym on Friday, March 4 at 6 p.m.
Heat men honour grads
The UBC Okanagan men closed out the 2015-16 season by honouring their three graduating players.
The Heat bid an official farewell to Jeremy Fostvelt, Kyle Pankratz, and Leo Schober during a ceremony prior to Saturday’s match against Mount Royal.
“It’s a great group of guys to play with, and it’s been an awesome team environment,” Pankratz said. “Losing streak’s been not fun, for sure, but you learn to deal with it, learn to cope with it. I think we’ve definitely grown as individuals, and gotten better as people going through this program.”
UBCO jumped out to a one-set lead Saturday before succumbing to the Cougars 3-1 (17-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-19). Lars Bornemann had 15 kills, while Pankratz added 11.
A night earlier at the Kelowna campus gym, Mount Royal recorded a straight set win (20-25, 24-26, 25-22), as UBCO finished the season at 4-20. Bornemann led the way again with 14 kills.
In their final match, Schober had six kills and three blocks, Pankratz had seven kills and two blocks, and Fostvelt played all four sets as the libero and led his team with 10 digs.