Top sports stories of 2016: Heat raises bar to new high

UBC Okanagan volleyball team wins Canada West silver medal and bronze at the national CIS finals

The UBC Okanagan women’s volleyball team celebrated a bronze medal win at the CIS nationals in Brandon.

For a program that seems to break new ground each and every season, the UBC Okanagan Heat women’s volleyball program certainly didn’t disappoint in 2016.

A mere five years after making their Canada West debut, the Heat set a whole new standard for the program, culminating with their first ever medal in March at the CIS national championship.

After losing a heartbreaking semifinal at nationals in Brandon to the University of Toronto, the Heat rebounded the following day to defeat UBC in the bronze medal match.

Along with a regular season conference title, a school-best 22-2 record, winning a Canada West silver, and making nationals for the first time ever, there wasn’t much more coach Steve Manuel could have asked from his team.

“As a program, this is just very satisfying,” said Manuel.

“It’s been an incredible amount of work the last few years, getting to nationals was definitely a goal, then to win a medal was the icing on the cake. It has raised the bar for our program.

“In five short years it’s hard to believe we’ve experienced pretty much everything,” he added.

“Now competing for a spot a nationals will be the new normal for us.”

Fifth-year middle player Katie Wuttunee, one of six players graduating with the program, said the significance of the Heat’s accomplishments finally came into clear view that celebratory Sunday in Brandon.

“It was pretty humbling to be there with the bronze medals,” said Wuttunee.

“Once we got them, you realize that it’s a big deal and you’re part of something really, really special. I’m happy for everyone with the team and I’m grateful for the whole experience.

“Steve said if he asked anyone one of us five years ago when we came here that if we were on the national podium, we would have been so happy to take it,” Wuttunee added.

“It’s really hard to believe how far we’ve come.”

On an individual basis, Wuttunee was named an all-Canadian first all-star.

Coach Manuel, for the second time, was honoured as CIS coach of the year.

Along with Wuttunee, Chandler Proch, Breanna Beamish, Katy Klomps, Kailin Jones and Katelyn DeJong all graduated after a five years with the program.

Even with all the key departures, the Heat has put a competitive team on the court once again in 2016-17.

Through the first 10 matches of the season, UBCO sports an 8-2 record.