Steve Manuel’s UBC Okanagan Heat have once again put themselves among some elite company in Canada West women’s volleyball.
For the fourth year in a row, the Heat will compete in the conference championship tournament, set for this weekend in Edmonton.
This Friday night, UBCO (15-9) will face the top-seeded University of Alberta Golden Bears (22-2) in the semifinal of the Final Four.
The other semifinal features the UBC Thunderbirds and defending champion Trinity Western Spartans.
The top three teams will qualify for the U Sports (CIS) national championship, March 17 to 19 at Ryerson in Toronto.
Last year’s Canada West silver medalists, the Heat advanced to the conference tournament after defeating the Calgary Dinos in the best-of-three quarterfinals.
After dropping the series opener Friday, the Heat rebounded with a dramatic, hard-fought five-set win on Saturday.
Then on Sunday, in the deciding match, the Heat prevailed 3-1 (25-22, 25-22, 28-30, 26-24) to book their trip to Edmonton.
Rookie setter Sara McCreary, filling in for the injured Emily Oxland, was masterful in orchestrating the Heat attack delivering 55 assists.
It was the second most assists in the Heat’s history, the most ever in a four-set match, and a top-ten mark in Canada West post season history.
With McCreary setting the table, Aidan Lea, Kaitlynn Given and Michelle Jakszuk all swung for 16 kills while Calgary product Megan Festival had 13. Sophia Furlan led the way for the UBCO defence with a match-high 17 digs while Festival added 15.
The turning point in the fourth set came with the score 19-18 for the Dinos, as McCreary won a battle at the net to tie the set up.
Skye Thompson followed that up with a service ace to take the lead at 20-19 and force a Calgary timeout. The Dinos would come back however, and the fourth set would go extra points.
Festival came up big for the Heat, as she gave the Heat match point with a kill and followed it up with one final big swing to win the match for UBCO.
In addition to Oxland, the Heat also lost outside hitter Siobhan Fitzpatrick who rolled her ankle in Saturday’s match.
Heat fifth-year Kaitlynn Given said her teammates rallied in Fitztpatrick’s absence.
“We just wanted to go out there and do it for her, said Given. “It’s never fun to see a teammate go down….we want to take all of that disappointment at the moment and just turn it into something good for us.
“We want her to be feeling supported all the way around. That one was for her, for sure.”
The Heat and Alberta will top off their semifinal match Friday at 5:30 Pacific time.