For the first time in their brief but successful CIS history, the UBC Okanagan Heat begin a season as the No. 1-ranked team in Canadian women’s volleyball.
Steve Manuel’s squad would like nothing more than to remain there for the duration of the 2015-16 Canada West campaign.
The Heat opens the new season this weekend at home to the Regina Cougars, with matches at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Kelowna campus.
With the Heat returning its entire starting lineup from last year, expectations this season are understandably high.
“Our strengths are our depth and for the first time since joining CIS, our experience,” said coach Steve Manuel, whose Heat reached the Canada West final four in each of the last two years.
“After finishing tied for first at at the end of the Canada West season last year, our team believes that it has the players, the experience and the depth to take another step this year and challenge for a medal at nationals.”
As for being ranked No. 1 to start the season, Manuel said it’s both an honour and a challenge for his program to uphold that status.
“I am happy for the opportunity to play under pressure right from the opening match, if we are going to have a bullseye on our backs we might as well get use to it,” he said. “In all honesty, it only matters who is ranked number one once the season is over, but we will gladly take it for now.”
The Heat men’s team also tips off the new campaign against the Cougars, with matches at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at the UBCO campus gym.
After a disappointing 6-18 record in Canada West last season, head coach Greg Poitras added some firepower in the offseason and is looking for a much improved showing in 2015-16.
“We have a great crew of guys this year showing a great deal of desire,” Poitras said. “We’ve worked hard in the off-season and in this pre-season to prepare us for the conference.”
Poitras said a pair of freshman and KSS grads, Devon Cote and Eli Risso, “have made an immediate impact making our team better from the get-go.”
Poitras expects UBCO to have a strong first half and contend with the top teams as the Heat works towards the playoffs.