It hasn’t taken long for the UBC Okanagan Heat women to establish themselves as a formidable presence in Canada West women’s volleyball.
Just a season and a half after joining the CIS, the Heat is ranked ninth in the country heading into the 2012-13 semester break.
It’s new territory for Steve Manuel’s Heat program which was ranked 10th in Canada the previous two weeks.
“It’s voted on by coaches across the country, so it’s nice to be recognized this way,” said Manuel, in his 12th season as head coach. “It’s nice from a credibility standpoint and it’s a big step forward for our program. We’re maybe even a little ahead of where we thought we’d be at this point, so we’re very happy.”
The Heat has won seven of its first 12 Canada West matches this season, including an upset of the previously-No. 1 ranked Trinity Western Spartans on Saturday afternoon at UBCO.
The Heat, which went 6-14 in its inaugural season, also swept a weekend set from perennial-contender Manitoba last month in Kelowna.
Manuel is encouraged by the way his program and his players have adapted to considerable step up from the college to the university level in just 1 1/2 seasons.
“I think we’ve got a lot of the key ingredients, we have the right types of players in the physical positions and we have the right types of players in the skill positions,” Manuel said. “This team is coming together well and playing well as a team, and that’s nice because by CIS standards we are, in a lot of ways, still pretty young.
“That win over Trinity was big for the psyche of our team. Our players are starting to believe in themselves and believe that they can be successful at this level.”
For Manuel, one of the trademarks of this year’s Heat is their on-court resolve and refusal to give up until the game’s final point.
That much was evident last month in Edmonton when the Heat lost the first two sets, then pushed the No. 3-ranked Alberta Pandas to the limit before losing in the fifth set 15-13.
“Our team seems to have that fight and tenacity, they don’t give up, and when push comes to shove players find a way to step up and make plays,” he said. “We lost that day, but we battled all the way.”
Alberta head coach Laurie Eisler has seen the Heat from the other side of the court and has been impressed with the UBCO program since first meeting them last season.
“They are a very difficult team to play that knows how to win and plays with a lot of passion and drive,” Eisler said. “I’m confident under the leadership of Coach Manuel that they will continue to be one of the forces in Canada West and CIS for many years to come.”
At 7-5, the Heat are in fifth spot in Canada West with 10 matches remaining in the New Year.
With seven teams making the playoffs and at least 10 still in contention, each win down the stretch will be crucial.
“I think the second semester is going to be tough,” Manuel said. “We need to continue what we’re doing and we feel like we have a pretty good shot. But we’ll have to win some key matches at key times to make it happen.”
To stay sharp during the semester break, the Heat will partner with Dalhousie University for training sessions and some matches in San Diego from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3.
UBCO returns to Canada West conference action Jan. 12 in Regina against the Cougars.