Heat women advance to volleyball's Final Four
The Heat women's volleyball team shook off a closely-fought first set loss to win the final three sets Friday night against Brandon and with the 3-1 (29-31, 25-18, 25-23, 25-19) win, the Heat earned their first Canada West playoff series in school history to make their way to the Canada West Final Four next weekend.
"I just..I can't say enough about how much tenacity, desire, and determination this crew showed tonight," said an extremely happy Steve Manuel following the game. "Brandon came out and threw the kitchen sink at us, and executed so well at the beginning of the match, and this team found a way to dig in and push back."
The Heat were lead by the trio of Brianna Beamish (3rd year, Surrey, BC), Megan Festival (2nd year, Calgary, AB) and Katy Klomps (3rd year, Surrey, BC). Beamish would bear the brunt of the offensive load, taking 55 total attempts over the course of the four sets that netted a game-high 17 kills for the outside-hitter. Festival was right behind Beamish in offensive production with 15 kills on 40 attempts to put her series kill total at 27, while Katy Klomps would add 11 kills, 6 digs, and 8 block assists from her middle position.
"Our middles and rightside did a great job of holding the block tonight," explained Brianna Beamish. "That allowed for a lot of 0ne-on-ones on the outside."
The Heat, for the second night in a row, kept the Brandon foursome of Vaovai Aiono, Shanlee McLennan, Meaghan Robertson, and Victoria Dakin in check, and while all four would have considerably better games in their second meeting with UBC Okanagan, the Heat ensured that none of the four Bobcat standouts found any type of offensive rhythm over the course of the four set match.
In the first set, UBC Okanagan would find themselves down 21-17, but would go on a 5-1 run to tie the game at 22-22. The Heat and Bobcats would trade points down the stretch, and although UBC Okanagan was on the verge of winning the set several times with service in hand, Brandon would find a way to fight off the Heat serve and tie the set up. Finally, Brandon would string together two points to hand the Heat the first set loss 31-29.
A tough way to lose the first set, but Manuel wasn't worried one bit about how his club was going to respond in the following set.
"It wasn't like we were down on ourselves because we lost the set," explained Manuel. "We were happy with how we battled back after being down and were more ready to begin the second set than being down on losing the first."
Manuel went on to add, "We just did a very good job of being in the moment during the game and being focused on the next play only."
While the Heat did have big performances from key players, it was UBC Okanagan's ability to string together successive points and go on runs of three or more points that proved to be the difference in their second match versus Brandon. Even when the Heat were facing serve from the Bobcats, UBC Okanagan was quick to earn the next point and stop any sort of momentum that may have been building for the Bobcats.
Perhaps a lesson learned from last season's first-round home series loss to Mount Royal, but Coach Manuel didn't think so.
"Maybe the experience we drew from playoffs last season helped us in this game," responded Manuel when asked about whether or not last season's loss to MRU had any effect on the Heat in this series. "It was more about us playing outstanding volleyball."
Looking forward, the Heat are obviously extremely happy about the opportunity to play in their first Canada West Final Four.
"We are ecstatic," said Beamish. "We knew we could do it and all our hard work finally paid off. This was just one of our goals this year, so we are ready to work on reaching the rest of our goals!"
The Heat will have a week to prepare for the upcoming Canada West Final Four, which will begin Friday War Memorial Gymnasium at UBC's Vancouver campus. As the lowest seed, the Heat will meet the No. 1 UBC Thunderbirds in the first game, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. The other semifinal will feature Trinity Western against Manitoba.