Saturday’s home volleyball games at the University of the Fraser Valley will feature a celebration of seven veteran Cascades.
It’s the final night of the PacWest regular season, and graduating players Kierra Noot, Katie Peacock, Emily Carroll and Sarah Russell of the women’s team, and Josh Togeretz, Chris Schmitke and Kurtis Stromdahl of the men’s squad will be honoured in a ceremony between games.
The Columbia Bible College Bearcats are the opponents on Senior Night, and games go at 6 p.m. (women) and 8 p.m. (men) at the Student Activity Centre North Gym. (The crosstown rivals also play on Friday at CBC, and the game times are identical.)
We caught up with the seven players this week to get their reflections on their Cascades careers.
Noot, a product of Surrey’s Pacific Academy, has been a pillar of the UFV women’s squad for the past five years. She stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie, and helped the program grow into a national powerhouse. The 5’11” middle was a key member of the Cascades’ breakthrough 2011-12 squad which won bronze at CCAA nationals, and the storied 2012-13 team which won the PacWest conference title and the CCAA national championship.
Noot captains the team this season, and head coach Dennis Bokenfohr calls her one of the fiercest competitors he’s ever seen.
The shining moment of her career, she said, was winning the national title.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “Everyone sets out to do that at the beginning of the year, but to be the team that actually does it and does it so forcefully, it’s pretty amazing. Until you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to put it into words. It’s definitely the highlight of my career, probably the highlight of my life.”
Calgary native Peacock’s tenure with the Cascades has been quite unique. After beginning her post-secondary career at CBC, she transferred to UFV and played two seasons before shoulder injuries prompted her to transition into an assistant coaching role during the national championship campaign of 2012-13.
After a year away, she returned to the program in May of last year as the team’s fitness trainer, and occasionally filled in as an extra player at practice. Before she knew it, she was back on the team, and she’s re-emerged as one of the top right sides in the PacWest this season.
“Dennis and (assistant coach) Carl (Nienhuis) just kind of reeled me back in,” she explained with a chuckle. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have even thought I’d be here. I think I’m just thankful to have been able to play one last year, create some good memories and meet some good people. I’ve had fun playing the game I love. It’s kind of sad to be ending, but it’s been a good ride.”
Carroll, a White Rock Christian Academy grad, spent the first three years of her career at UBC Okanagan and helped the team transition from the CCAA to the CIS. She transferred to UFV for her fourth and fifth years of volleyball eligibility in order to enroll in the nursing program.
Bokenfohr said the team was very fortunate to add a top veteran athlete like Carroll during her fourth and fifth seasons, and the six-footer has given the Cascades a potent one-two punch in the middle with Noot – both players rank in the top 10 in blocking in the PacWest this season.
“I really enjoyed the girls, and I can’t believe it’s over,” Carroll said, looking ahead to her home-court finale. “I’ve been dreading that day for five years. I don’t want it to be here. I thought I’d be ready, but not at all.
“I want to go as far as we can this year, and I want have my peak of the best I can play. And I know that would happen if we could go to nationals.”
Russell, a 5’10” outside hitter out of Surrey’s Kwantlen Park Secondary, arrived at UFV for the 2011-12 season and was a serving specialist on the CCAA bronze medal-winning squad. She redshirted the following season after knee surgery, and returned as an on-court contributor the past two campaigns.
Bokenfohr praised Russell’s leadership ability – though she hasn’t held a formal captaincy role, she’s helped set the tone for the program in terms of her integrity, professionalism and work ethic.
“It’s been really awesome,” Russell said of her time with the Cascades. “I’ve learned a lot playing with a lot of great players, players who could stand out in any league. And playing on a sports team has positively influenced me academically, with time management and an increased drive to do well in school.
“It’s been a really great experience. I’m glad I chose UFV.”
Along with Noot, Togeretz is the only grad-to-be who spent all five years of eligibility with the Cascades.
The Yarrow native traveled a well-worn path to the UFV – his older brothers Anthony and Jason also played for the men’s volleyball program. The 6’3” outside hitter, who attended Credo Christian High School in Langley, fashioned a terrific tenure with the Cascades and emerged as one of the team’s go-to attackers in recent years.
Looking ahead to Senior Night and the fast-approaching conclusion of his university volleyball career, Togeretz said it’ll be a “huge change.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do with my time at first, it’ll just be so different,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s an exciting change . . . but I’m sure that come September when these guys start training again I’ll miss it.”
Schmitke, a product of Abbotsford’s Yale Secondary, began his PacWest volleyball career across town at Columbia Bible College, and was part of the Bearcats’ 2010-11 CCAA national championship team.
After taking a year off, he transferred to UFV for his last three years of eligibility. He’s played both libero and left side for the Cascades this season, and head coach Kyle Donen lauded his versatility.
“It really only hit me this week – this is my fifth year, and I’m done,” Schmitke said. “I’m ready to move on, but it’s just different. I don’t have any regrets; I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve done.
“It’s been tough, but it’s been a good journey.”
Stromdahl came to UFV from Mission’s Heritage Park Secondary, and played three seasons for the Cascades, plus one redshirt year.
The 6’4” outside hitter has battled a litany of injuries in recent years – ACL surgery cost him the second half of last season, and an ankle injury sidelined him for five weeks this season. But he’s persevered through it all to emerge as a key leader and offensive mainstay for the Cascades.
“It was totally worth it,” he said. “I knew, especially going into the surgery, that it was going to be a ton of work to get back even close to the shape I was in before.
“Being part of a varsity sport was always a childhood dream. It was something I always wanted to do, and it worked out well for volleyball. I’ve got to say, the best thing about it was the camaraderie that you get between all the guys. I have relationships here now that will last the rest of my life.”