If the UBC Okanagan Heat women were issuing a statement, you can bet the Alberta Pandas and the rest of the Canada West conference received the message loud and clear.
In a showdown of two of the nation’s top volleyball teams, the Heat took both matches from the No. 1-ranked Pandas over the weekend at the Kelowna campus gym.
The result catapulted the Heat back to No. 1 in the CIS, a position they occupied to start the season.
UBCO remains tied with Trinity Western for top spot in Canada West at 15-1, while Alberta slips to third at 13-3.
Steve Manuel’s squad was pushed hard by the Pandas on both nights, but the Heat proved to be equal to the challenge.
On Friday, the Heat lost the first set, then roared back for a 3-1 win (25-14, 25-20, 25-21).
On Saturday, the Pandas were a set away from the victory but UBCO prevailed again, the time in a 3-2 nail-biter (25-16, 23-25, 11-25, 25-21, 19-17)
“Really, for me the big thing is just the character our players showed throughout the whole weekend against a very good Alberta team,” said Manuel, UBCO’s head coach. “The Pandas jumped all over us the first night, but we buckled down and fought back.
“Saturday was similar, we were in tough after losing the second and third sets, but again the players wouldn’t give up. It’s about maturity and character, and our team showed a lot of that this weekend.”
On Friday, Brianna Beamish led the attack with 14 kills, while Michelle Jakszuk added 12, Megan Festival had 11 and Katie Wuttunee, nine.
On Saturday, Festival delivered 19 kills, while Beamish had 16, and Emily Oxland piled up 49 assists, four blocks and 10 digs.
Now in its fifth season at the CIS level, Manuel said the Heat program continues to evolve and break new ground.
“It’s another step, to be able to beat the No. 1 team in the country and beat them twice, it’s a great indication of where we’re at as a team,” he said. “In the past we may not have handled it this way, but we went toe-to-toe with them and came out on top. It’s been a long time since anyone has swept Alberta.
“It shows the confidence and trust our players have in each other,” added Manuel. “Everybody believes in what we’re doing and it shows in the execution.”
With eight matches remaining in the regular season, the Heat has already nailed down a spot in the top four. The first-place finisher will earn an automatic berth in the Canada West Final Four playoff weekend.
UBC Okanagan will have this coming weekend off before returning to action Jan. 29 and 30 against the UBC Thunderbirds (11-3).
The Alberta Golden Bears (16-0) were too much for the home side as the defending champs swept UBC Okanagan in Canada West men’s action at the Kelowna camps.
Still, there were a few positives for the Heat, who started Friday’s match well before falling to the unbeaten Bears 3-1 (25-22, 25-12, 25-17, 25-19).
The Heat offence was led by Lars Bornemann and Alex Swiatlowski, with 10 and nine kills respectively.
On Saturday, it was another strong start for the Heat but in the end a 3-0 defeat to a high-powered Alberta squad—27-25, 25-18, 25-17.
“We were up against a monster, really, to play against an undefeated team, they’re the top program, defending champions two years in a row,” said Heat head coach Greg Poitras. “I think over the course of the weekend we got better, we were more consistent, some of our wing hitters, their numbers were quite a bit better than last night, so we’re happy about a couple changes and improvements we made there.”
The Heat (3-13) now have a bye week next weekend before facing the UBC Thunderbirds on Jan. 29 and 30.