The University of the Fraser Valley women’s volleyball team picked an opportune time to finally solve the Douglas Royals – the first round of the PacWest provincial championships.
The Royals were the only opponent the Cascades hadn’t beaten in the regular season – the New Westminster program having posted a perfect 4-0 record against UFV in conference play.
But on Thursday evening at the PacWest tourney, hosted by Columbia Bible College, the No. 5-seeded Cascades broke through with a four-set win (29-27, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21) over the No. 4 Royals. They move on to face the No. 1 Vancouver Island University Mariners in the semifinals on Friday (6 p.m., Columbia Place), with the winner earning a berth to the CCAA national championship.
“It’s hard, in any league at any level, to beat a team five times in a season,” Cascades head coach Mike Gilray said afterward. “We talked about that as a team.
“I just felt like we had no give-up tonight – the girls really put stuff on the line. I thought both teams did. Douglas is a scrambly team, and picked stuff up defensively and ran stuff down. But our girls matched it, all the way along. At no point did I feel like we were playing not to lose the game. We knew it was going to be a battle.”
Thursday’s result marked the first playoff win for the Cascades women’s volleyball program since they won the CCAA national title in 2013.
The first set was an emotional roller-coaster – UFV opened a four-point lead (19-15) after an effective turn at the service line by Rachel Funk, but the Royals battled back to level the score and push the match beyond the 25-point threshold. The Cascades, though, managed to grind out a thrilling 28-26 triumph.
The Royals bounced back with a solid 25-19 win in the second set, but the Cascades responded in kind with a 25-18 win of their own in the third. They built a four-point lead midway through the fourth, and finished off the match in clinical fashion, 25-21.
“(Douglas head coach) Kyra (Iannone) does an unbelievable job of preparing her teams, and I knew she would be extremely well-prepared for us,” Gilray said. “We threw a couple different things at her. We passed four people tonight, just a little change, and had one of our best passing nights, for sure. I thought that helped us stay with Douglas.”
Setter Nicole Blandford picked up player of the game honours, guiding an attack which was spearheaded by left sides Kelly Robertson (15 kills) and Funk (14 kills, three aces). The most remarkable stat for the Cascades was that they had four players register 15 digs – Blandford, Robertson, Kara Williams and Amy Davidson.
“I think we almost had an advantage by never beating them (Douglas) before this year,” said third-year middle Monique Huber, who returned from injury to spark the Cascades. “We just wanted it more – we had so much energy and positivity coming into this game. Yes, it was hard, but having to overcome those losses almost made us play better.
“It’s surreal,” she added. “If you heard us in the change room, we were all just yelling and screaming for five minutes before our team talk, because we were just so excited about how we won.”