Sara McCreary (left) and Aidan Lea will try help the UBCO Heat contend for a national women’s university volleyball title this weekend at the University of Laval. -Image: Rich Lam/UBC

Heat aims high at U Sports nationals

UBC Okanagan one of eight teams at Canadian women’s volleyball finals in Quebec City

Falling to UBC in the Canada West semifinal wasn’t exactly the outcome UBC Okanagan Heat women were counting on.

On the upside, the early playoff exit bought Steve Manuel’s squad a much-needed week off to prepare for the U Sports national women’s volleyball championship this weekend in Quebec City.

“All things considered, it’s a pretty good scenario for us,” said Manuel, whose Heat went 19-5 during the regular season. “It was an incredibly busy second semester for us, we spent five of the last seven weekends on the road, so that was a challenging stretch.

“This (break) has given us a chance to rest, get some sleep and rehab and just reload,” he added. “It’s also given us an opportunity to address and work on some things you don’t get a chance to when you’re playing every weekend.”

The Heat, seeded No. 5 in the country, will open nationals on Friday at the University of Laval with a quarterfinal match against the fourth-ranked Ryerson University Rams from Toronto.

“We’ve seen them play quite a bit, they have a nice group of players and to go unbeaten in Ontario, you have to be doing something right,” Manuel said of the Rams. “They’re a good team and well-coached, so like all the matches there, it won’t be easy.”

UBCO is one of four Canada West teams at nationals. The Calgary Dinos head in as the top seed, while UBC is third and Alberta is rated seventh. The University of Montreal (No. 2), host Laval Rouge et Or and Dalhousie round out the eight-team field.

Manuel said any one of “four or five” teams—including the Heat—is capable of claiming the Canadian title, with no fewer than six being legitimate medal contenders.

“I think we’re in a good place going in,” said Manuel. “The players are poised, confident and excited about the chance to be playing for a national medal.”

The Heat competed once before at the U Sports nationals, winning a bronze medal in Brandon in 2016.

Five current UBCO players were on that medal-winning squad—Erin Drew, Michelle Jakszuk, Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Sophia Furlan and Skye Thompson.

As for his program’s second appearance at the big show, Manuel said it’s important for the Heat to strike a balance between the task at hand and simply enjoying the experience.

“It’s such a privilege to play in this championship, a lot of players go through their entire university careers without getting close to this,” said Manuel.

“Our sole focus is to win, but if it doesn’t happen it’s not the be-all end-all. We’re going there with the idea that we can bring home a national medal, so we need to embrace the entire experience and enjoy it as much as we can.”

The U Sports national gold medal final goes Sunday in Quebec City at 2 p.m. Pacific time.

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