Like a straight-A student, the UBC Okanagan Heat proved to be a superlatively quick study competing at the highest level of university women’s volleyball in Canada.
A mere five seasons after making their Canada West debut, the Heat stood tall with bronze medals around their necks on Sunday at the CIS national finals in Brandon.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss Saturday to the University of Toronto and prospects of national gold out of the picture, Steve Manuel’s team showed its resilience in knocking off UBC in straight sets to claim third place in the country.
The Heat set several new standards for the program in 2015-16, including a regular season conference title, a school-best 22-2 record, hosting the Final Four and winning Canada West silver, and making nationals for the first time ever.
Manuel said he couldn’t have asked much more of his team, which has quickly evolved into one of the country’s most competitive and respected programs.
“As a program, this is just very satisfying,” said Manuel, the CIS coach of the year. “It’s been an incredible amount of work the last few years, getting to nationals was definitely a goal, then to win a medal was the icing on the cake, it has raised the bar for our program.
“In five short years it’s hard to believe we’ve experienced pretty much everything,” he added. “Now competing for a spot a nationals will be the new normal for us.”
Fifth-year middle player Katie Wuttunee, one of six players graduating with the program, said the significance of the Heat’s accomplishments finally came into clear view Sunday in Brandon.
“It was pretty humbling to be there with the bronze medals,” said Wuttunee. “Once we got them, you realize that it’s a big deal and you’re part of something really, really special. I’m happy for everyone with the team and I’m grateful for the whole experience.
“Steve said if he asked anyone one of us five years ago when we came here that if we were on the national podium, we would have been so happy to take it,” Wuttunee added. “It’s really hard to believe how far we’ve come.”
And just as important as their achievements on the court, said Wuttunee, are the personal bonds that have developed along the way.
“It’s about all the relationships you form, I’ve had all of my best friends to train with every day, and we have a coaching staff that made this a fun and unique experience.
To get through all the ups and and downs together and accomplish as a group are memories that will stick with us always. I’m going to miss it.”
Along with Wuttunee, Chandler Proch, Breanna Beamish, Katy Klomps, Kailin Jones and Katelyn DeJong are all moving on after a five years with the program.