With a berth in the CIS national women’s volleyball championship already locked up, a Canada West title would have been a nice bonus for the UBC Okanagan Heat.
In the end, the No. 1-ranked Heat reluctantly settled for the silver medal, falling 3-2 (25-19, 18-25, 25-18, 23-25, 15-10) to the second-ranked Trinity Western Spartans in Saturday night’s conference championship in Kelowna.
With a boisterous crowd of more than 1,400 on hand at the UBCO gym, it was the third time in three meetings this season the two Canada West powers went to a fifth and deciding set.
While there was once again little to choose between the two teams on the scoreboard, Heat coach Steve Manuel conceded his team didn’t quite bring its best game.
“We had a real tough time executing and I think that was the difference,” said Manuel, the Canada West coach of the year. “We couldn’t quite do the things we wanted when we had the opportunity.
“You had two big swinging teams and I think it was real exciting for the fans.”
Still, the Heat program, in just its fifth season in the CIS, broke new ground in 2016 by hosting the Final Four for the first time, winning its first Canada West medal and qualifying for its inaugural visit to the national championship.
“What this group of student-athletes has accomplished in five years is absolutely amazing,” said Manuel, whose team qualified for the CIS finals thanks to Friday night’s semifinal win over UBC. “Nobody else in women’s volleyball had ever made it to nationals this fast, won a silver medal, or had a winning record (22-2) or finished first.
“We lost today, we didn’t quite have it, but the things we accomplished was unbelievable…extremely proud of the group.”
For veteran middle Katy Klomps, a Canada West title would have been preferable, but she said the experience gained is still invaluable to the Heat.
“We came into this knowing this was a bonus game for us,” said Klomps, a Canada West second team all-star. “We’ve never been in this gold medal game, we’re gaining experience from this, and we’re learning a lot about how to play at that top level.
“Of course it wasn’t the result we wanted but can still be proud of a lot of what we did (in the championship).
The Heat will leave Wednesday for Brandon, site of the 2016 CIS national women’s volleyball championship.
Eight teams will be competing, with the opening round of quarterfinal matches set to go on Friday.