With two of his best players sidelined and his team still recovering from a gutsy win on the road the previous week, Steve Manuel knew the odds were stacked against the UBC Okanagan Heat.
At the Canada West Final Four in Edmonton, the Heat was swept in back-to-back matches by the Alberta Golden Bears and Trinity Western Spartans to finish out of the medals in fourth place overall.
The top three teams—Alberta, Trinity and UBC—all qualifed for the U Sports (CIS) championship this weekend at Ryerson in Toronto.
In their fourth consecutive trip to the conference finals, the Heat was without both fifth-year setter Emily Oxland and leading point producer Siobhan Fitzpatrick due to injuries.
Coming off an emotional three-match quarterfinal win over the hometown Calgary Dinos, the Heat were the only team to have travelled the previous week.
It all added up to an uphill climb for UBC Okanagan at the Canada West finals.
“To be without two of your best players and going up against those veteran teams two matches in a row, that was a tall order for us,” said Manuel, the Heat’s head coach. “We knew that if everything lined up and we played out of our minds, we would have a chance. But we travelled the week before and we were pretty banged up, so were up against it.
“Just to make it back (to the Final Four) as injured as we were, was real positive.”
The Heat, who won the Canada West silver medal last year, lost 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-21) in Friday’s semifinal to the No. 1 ranked and host Alberta Pandas.
On Saturday, Trinity Western subdued UBCO in three sets (25-13, 25-20, 25-20), preventing the Heat from returning to the eight-team national championship for the second year in a row.
It marked the end of the Heat careers of Oxland, Kaitlynn Given and Megan Festival, all of whom have been key players for Manuel since joining the program in the 2012-13 season.
“They’re the core of this team, they’ve been to the playoffs every year with us,” Manuel said of the threesome. “All three have been a big part of our program’s success.”
And Manuel is excited about his returning corps for next season, led by Fitzpatrick, Michelle Jakszuk, Aiden Lea, setter Sara McCreary and Erin Drew.
“It’s a strong group we have coming back,” he said.