WVB season preview: Cascades welcome new coach in Gilray

The University of the Fraser Valley volleyball programs embark on the PacWest regular season this weekend with a home-and-home set vs. the Columbia Bible College Bearcats. The crosstown rivals lock horns at Columbia Place on Friday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.), before heading to UFV’s Envision Athletic Centre on Saturday for the Cascades’ home openers (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.).

We take an in-depth look at the Cascades women’s volleyball team below.

WVB 11x17 poster Oct12-15It’s the start of a new era for the Cascades women’s volleyball team, as Mike Gilray takes the reins of the program.

Gilray is a newcomer to the PacWest, but he’s a well-known presence on the B.C. volleyball scene. He served two stints as an assistant coach with the Trinity Western Spartans women’s squad, and achieved a great deal of success in club volleyball, guiding the Fraser Valley Volleyball Club (FVVC) U18 Blitz girls team to seven straight B.C. titles and two national championships.

“I’m definitely excited for my first game with the team this year,” Gilray said, looking ahead to the home-and-home set vs. the Bearcats. “It’s been great so far – I’ve loved it. It’s testing me as a coach.”

Gilray’s greatest test in the preseason was a rash of injuries to his middles. At one point, all four middles on the roster – veterans Monique Huber and Mandelyn Erikson, along with rookie Brielle Campbell and redshirt Jana Grotemeyer – were sidelined. That posed a challenge when it came to running practices and playing preseason games, but the personnel void allowed other players to try playing middle and Gilray believes he’s developed newfound depth at the position. And the best part is, he expects everyone to be fully healed and available to play this weekend.

Huber and fifth-year standout setter Nicole Blandford will serve as team captains. Gilray has been very pleased with Huber’s development in the off-season. The third-year player from Vancouver was hard-pressed to earn playing time last season due to the presence of fifth-year stars Kierra Noot and Emily Carroll, but with both of those players having graduated, Huber has embraced the opportunity before her.

“She’s trained extremely hard all summer, and she’s looked great,” Gilray said.

Rachel Funk, a second-year outside hitter out of Surrey, B.C., has been the Cascades’ “most effective player” in the preseason according to Gilray, and fellow sophomore Kelly Robertson is also battling for for a significant role at outside hitter.

Gilray’s squad has a distinctly youthful flavour, with seven players on the opening-night roster in their first year of eligibility. Kara Williams (right side/setter), Keira Fisher (right side/middle) and Chelsea Kidd (outside hitter) are among the youngsters who have distinguished themselves in the early going.

The new bench boss has four liberos to choose from – returning starter Amy Davidson; Rachelle Flores, a fourth-year transfer from Douglas College; and rookies Cassidy King and Christie Faester.

“It’s been a really good battle – the liberos have worked hard to better each other,” Gilray said. “They’ve made my job hard, deciding who’s in there. I think experience will lead the way to start, and I’m hoping the rookies will continue to technically push them.”

Gilray is looking forward to getting the regular season underway so he can continue the process of familiarizing himself with the rest of the PacWest.

“I believe in preparing at a high level, from my practices to game planning,” he said. “I’m excited to go and play, and then not only watch the video not only of our team, but of the other team to tactically prepare for the next night.”

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