Underdog role just fine with Heat women

UBCO volleyball squad to meet defending champion UBC Friday in Canada West semis in Vancouver

Katie Wuttunee (left) and Megan Festival will be on net duty as the UBC Okanagan Heat visit the UBC Thunderbirds Friday in the Canada West women's volleyball semifinal.

Katie Wuttunee (left) and Megan Festival will be on net duty as the UBC Okanagan Heat visit the UBC Thunderbirds Friday in the Canada West women's volleyball semifinal.

The UBC Okanagan Heat women’s volleyball squad already made history by winning the school’s first ever Canada West playoff series last weekend.

Steve Manuel’s team is looking to add another landmark moment this weekend in Vancouver.

A top-three finish at the Canada West Final Four tournament would earn UBCO its first ever trip to the CIS national volleyball championship, Feb. 28 to March 2 in Regina.

The Heat will face the rival and favoured UBC Thunderbirds Friday night in the semifinals, while Manitoba battles Trinity Western.

The Thunderbirds (18-4) are the defending national champs and defeated the Heat (12-10) in both matches this season.

On paper the odds the may be stacked against the Heat, but Manuel expects his team to play like there’s nothing to lose—much like UBCO did last weekend in knocking off Brandon in back-to-back matches in the quarters.

“There’s no question, we won’t pretend we’re not going to be nervous, but at the same time we need to just go out there and play, not worry and don’t sweat the little things,” Manuel said. “Basically we want to just go out, hit the crap out of the ball…and just play loose. Don’t worry about the last play, just move onto the next one. That’s what they did in Brandon…we’ll just try and recreate that.”

Co-captain Jillian Festival is one of three Heat players who will graduate from the UBCO program at season’s end.

The 6-foot-0 outside hitter from Calgary said it’s gratifying to see how far the Heat has come in a relatively short time.

“We’ve been working towards being a presence in the CIS since even before we were in Canada West, so it’s great to accomplish what we have,” said Festival, who is joined by fellow grads Lenai Schmidt and Kendra Wayling. “There have been bumps along the road, we’ve really had to work for it, but it’s really been a rewarding journey.”

As for this Friday’s matchup with UBC and the prospects of earning a trip to nationals, Festival expects her teammates to leave it all on the floor.

“We really feel like we have nothing to lose, now we just have to play free and loose and enjoy the moment,” Festival said. “This is the best team we’ve ever had, everyone has performed and contributed to put us where we are now.

“UBC is a great team, but like every team they’ve lost some matches. We feel like if we play our game, then we have a good chance.”

Even if the Heat loses Friday, they would have one more chance to qualify for nationals with a win on Saturday.

The two finalists as well as the bronze medal winner will all lock up berths to the CIS championship in Regina.

Klomps an all-star

Third-year middle Katy Klomps of the Heat has been named to the Canada West second all-star team.

The Surrey Christian High School grad finished third in total blocks in Canada West at 1.42 per set, the seventh-best in conference history.

“She has definitely established herself as one of the best middle blockers in the nation,” coach Steve Manuel said of Klomps. “But it is not just on defense that she will impact a game for us. She can also attack and do so very efficiently, she has also emerged as a leader and is a spirited competitor.”

Jakszuk a top rookie

Heat outside hitter Michelle Jakszuk has been named to the Canada West all-rookie team for 2013-14.

The 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Gibsons excelled at coming off the bench and providing UBCO with a spark when needed.

“Good things always seem to happen when Michelle is on the floor,” said Steve Manuel. “She has the ability to make an impact whenever she enters the game.”


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