It’s already been a season like no other for the UBC Okanagan Heat women’s volleyball team.
Still, there’s one more prize Kailin Jones and her Heat teammates would like to get their hands on before closing the book on the 2015-16 campaign.
The Heat will be at Brandon University this weekend to contend for the CIS national women’s championship for the first time in the program’s history.
The third-seeded team in the country, UBCO will open play on Friday with a quarterfinal match against the No. 6 Dalhousie University Tigers.
Coming off an emotional, character-building five-set loss to Trinity Western in the Canada West final last weekend in Kelowna, Jones expects her team to be well prepared for the challenges a national championship presents.
“It’s going to be refreshing to play some new teams we haven’t seen before, and honestly Canada West is one of the strongest leagues, so really we’ve seen it all,” said Jones, a Kelowna product who is one of six grads on the Heat roster.
“We’re not going to match up with someone tougher that Trinity.
“I think we had some really good experiences in the final against them, and it should help us at nationals.”
The Heat clinched a spot at its first Canadian university championship thanks to a straight-set win over UBC last Friday in the semifinal of the Final Four tournament at the UBCO gym.
Then on Saturday, in front of a raucous audience of more than 1,400, the Heat came up just five points short in a five-set gold medal match against the Trinity Western Spartans.
Still, the silver medal was yet another watermark moment for the 2015-16 Heat who set a new standard for all UBCO teams to come.
In just their fifth season of Canada West competition, Steve Manuel’s team won its first conference title with a school best 22-2 record and hosted the conference championship for the first time.
The Heat coach said the trip to nationals is another huge step for what has been a rapidly evolving program.
“What this group of student-athletes has accomplished in five years is absolutely amazing,” said Manuel, the Canada West coach of the year. “Nobody else in women’s volleyball had ever made it to nationals this fast, won a silver medal, or had a winning record or finished first.
“It’s been a goal of ours to get to nationals, we just narrowly missed the last two years, beaten by the eventual national champions,” he said. “This year we took a step through that door.”
And if the Heat—ranked No. 1 for much of the season—brings its best game at nationals, Manuel believes anything is possible.
“We’re really happy to make that step and who knows, with all that this team has done, it’s hard to say how far they can actually go,” he said. “I think the sky is the limit. I’m excited to see what they bring at nationals.”
Like Jones, Katy Klomps is in her fifth and final season of university volleyball and like five other teammates, will play her final matches with the Heat this weekend in Brandon.
Based on experience and the battles the Heat have been through together over the years, Klomps expects a poised and confident group to take to the court this weekend.
“There’s a lot of maturity and a lot of experience here,” said Klomps. “There’s not a whole of nerves going around, we’re pretty calm and comfortable relying on each other to get things done that we need to get done. I know we’re all really looking forward to nationals, to see what we can accomplish.”
As far as their first round opponents are concerned, Steve Manuel has a pretty good idea what to expect from Dalhousie.
“We know Dalhousie fairly well, I still watch several AUS matches during the season,” said Manuel. “This is also the team that we travelled to San Diego to train with and compete, that was three seasons ago so some of the players are still there. I coached one of their leftsides, Mieke DuMont from Kamloops, she played two seasons with our junior Heat program.
“So there is some familiarity in this first round opponent, they are not completely foreign to us.
Trinity Western is ranked No. 1 for the championship, while the Toronto Blues are seeded second, the Heat is third, and the Montreal Carabins, fourth.
The CIS gold medal final will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. Pacific time.