The fourth-ranked Heat will host the Regina Cougars Friday at UBC Okanagan’s Kelowna campus gym. -Image: UBC Okanagan Heat athletics

Heat women persist among Canada’s best

Ranked fourth, UBC Okanagan has been in the top 10 in Canada since early 2014

Not since early in 2014 has the UBC Okanagan Heat been outside the top 10 in the U Sports national women’s volleyball rankings.

After a bye week, one of the country’s most consistent and successful programs in recent Canada West history returns to its home court for a pair of matches against the University of Regina Cougars.

Currently occupying the No. 4 spot, Steve Manuel’s Heat (6-2) have spent 48 consecutive ranking weeks in the same company as the best teams in Canada.

Despite the departures of top-end players such as Katy Klomps, Breanna Beamish, Katie Wuttunee, Emily Oxland and Kaitlynn Given over the last couple of seasons, the Heat program has managed to endure as one of the teams to beat in Canada West.

Led by the likes of Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Sara McCreary and Michelle Jakszuk, among others, the 2017-18 version of the Heat is carrying on the standard set down by teams of the previous three seasons—56 wins in 72 conference matches.

Manuel, who is in his 16th season as the Heat’s head coach, said much of the program’s success stems from the ongoing development and inclusion of each and every player on the UBCO roster.

“We’ve worked very hard to maintain the same level of play we’ve come to expect over the last few years,” said Manuel, whose team won a Canada West silver and national bronze medal in 2016. “As a staff, we’ve worked hard to develop our whole group, not just our stars, and we tend to play a lot of our players right from the start of the season. So when people move on, others are ready to step in and do the job when their time comes.

“It’s worked well for us.”

As for his team’s 6-2 start to the new season, Manuel said he couldn’t have asked for much more from the Heat.

“All in all, I’d say we’re doing a little better than expected,” he said. “I kind of felt with the graduation of some of key players, it might take a little while going, especially playing teams like Mount Royal and Trinity early. To be 6-2, I couldn’t ask for any more.”

The Heat look to keep their 2017-18 campaign on the winning track this weekend against the Cougars who bring a 5-5 record into Kelowna.

The teams will face off Friday at 6 p.m., then again at 5 p.m. on Saturday at UBCO’s Kelowna campus.

“They’re a very athletic and well-coached team,” Manuel said of Regina. “They’ve played well against some ranked teams early, they beat Mount Royal in a five-setter, so we expect them to be tough.”

Heat basketball…

After a week off, both UBC Okanagan basketball teams return to the hardwood this weekend in Abbosford. On Friday and Saturday, the Heat will take on the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades.

Claire Meadows’ UBCO women’s squad (0-6) will be pursuing its first win of the Canada West season against UFV (2-6).

Pete Guarasci’s Heat men have a 2-4 record, while the Cascades are 2-6.

Fourth-year Heat guard Aldrich Berrios heads into the weekend 20 points shy (980) of 1,000 for his Canada West career.

UBC Okanagan’s next home action is Dec. 1 and 2 against the Manitoba Bisons.

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