With a trip to the Saint John, New Brunswick beckoning, the UBC Okanagan Heat’s focus over the last couple of days has shifted to winning a third straight national women’s collegiate volleyball title.
But that doesn’t mean Steve Manuel’s squad missed out on the opportunity to savour every moment of their emotional three-peat as BCCAA provincial champs in front of the hometown faithful.
The top-ranked Heat bent but didn’t break against the longtime rival Vancouver Island University Mariners on Saturday night at UBCO, winning the B.C. finale in five sets (25-27, 25-19, 25-21, 20-25, 15-7).
Even after dropping the first set in the pressure-packed environment, Heat veteran Alex Basso had faith her teammates would respond positively to the adversity.
“It was a challenge to see if we could come back from that and I think it just showed how strong of a team we really are,” said Basso, a BCCAA all-star. “Just being aggressive and not letting down when it gets tough is what we seem to do.
“It’s so great to win it on our home court,” Basso continued, “and the support of the fans and community was amazing.”
Not only did the championship match mark the Heat’s last official game in the BCCAA before moving to the CIS, it was Caitlyn Nyhus’s last home contest of her stellar five-year career.
The 2011 BCCAA player of the year couldn’t have asked for a better farewell.
“It’s been amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better team, a better coaching staff or a better way to go out,” said Nyhus, a Penticton product. “Having won three provincials and two nationals in my time here, it’s been a dream come true.”
Nyhus was named the tournament’s MVP, while Heat teammates Basso and Myrte Schön made the all-star team.
Even with their continued success, head coach Steve Manuel said complacency or lack of motivation have never issues for his team.
And the Heat proved it again on Saturday night.
“It’s kind of like having a domestic animal that gets a taste of wild meat, ” said Manuel. “They just want to keep going out there, doesn’t matter how much put you out there.
“That’s really how they are, the team is hungry…we’re happy and it was really big to win this. You know they’ll be hungry again when we go to Saint John.”
The Heat will be the No. 1 seed at the University of New Brunswick-Saint John for the CCAA nationals March 10 to 12.
And Caitlyn Nyhus has a clear vision of how she’d like to see her final matches unfold.
“Hopefully we’ll win three more matches and another gold medal,” she said. “That’d be ideal.”
The top-seeded Heat will meet the host UNB-Saint John squad in the opening match on March 10.