With five teams tightly bunched atop the Canada West conference in women’s volleyball, each and every match in 2017 will carry considerable meaning for the UBC Okanagan Heat.
Steve Manuel’s defending national bronze medalists will open the new year with two key games this weekend in Vancouver, Friday and Saturday, against the rival UBC Thunderbirds.
The Heat (8-2) is currently tied for third in the conference with the Calgary Dinos, while the T-Birds (7-3) are just a game back.
Leading the way in Canada West are the Alberta Golden Bears (10-0) and Trinity Western Spartans (9-1), both of whom the Heat will see in the season’s second half.
With plenty of tough matches to come and little room for error in the second semester, five-year veteran Megan Festival said the Heat is ready to take on the challenge.
“(Head coach) Steve has done a good job of training us for the long run, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep it going over the last part of the season,” said Festival, one of three co-captains on the Heat.
“This is when we tend to start peaking, when all the hard work we’ve done starts to pay off.
“We know there won’t be any easy matches, so it’s time for us to ramp things up.”
Despite losing six players to graduation from last year’s team—most of whom were starters—the Heat is once again holding its own in an ultra-competitive conference.
Festival said it’s a testament to the depth and talent of the Heat program.
“We had a lot of girls coming back who played key roles for us last year when they were called on, they got a lot of experience in important situations,” she said.
“Michelle Jakszuk has really stepped up this year after waiting for her chance, and Siobhan (Fitzpatrick) has been playing great.
“It’s a different team this year, but still a very good team. It’s been a nice, refreshing change.”
Meanwhile, the Heat men (4-6) will also be in Vancouver for a pair of matches this weekend against the UBC Thunderbirds (6-4).
The next home action for the UBCO volleyball teams is Jan. 20 and 21 against Trinity Western.
Heat hoops at home…
Both UBC Okanagan basketball teams tip off 2017 at home this weekend with a pair of games against the University of Regina Cougars.
Friday’s games at the Kelowna campus are set for 6 and 8 p.m., while Saturday’s go at 5 and 7 p.m.
Claire Meadows and the Heat women sit at 2-8 heading into the second semester, while the Cougars are at 6-2.
Pete Guarasci’s Heat men’s squad is 1-9, while Regina is 5-3.