Cascades volleyball teams chasing nationals berths at PacWest championships

The University of the Fraser Valley volleyball teams are hoping to get a boost from their hometown fans on the road this week at the PacWest provincial championships.

The conference tournament is being held across town at Columbia Bible College (2940 Clearbrook Road, Abbotsford), not far from the Cascades’ home digs at the Envision Athletic Centre.

“We’ve had great fan support at all of our home games, and I hope they continue it over to CBC to support us there,” UFV women’s volleyball coach Mike Gilray said. “I know some of our alums will be coming out, and they’ve been a great support to us this year, so we’re excited.”

“We’re going into a gym we’re definitely comfortable in – we had two good games there this year, and we usually do have good crowds,” echoed Cascades men’s coach Kyle Donen. “It would be nice to see a few CBC fans cheer for us, too. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’d like to think that us being in Abbotsford, we’ll have a bit of a home-crowd advantage.

“But our focus is going to be on generating our own energy on our side, and I don’t think we’ll have any trouble doing that, considering it’s playoff time.”

Joel Kleingeltink and the Cascades take on the COTR Avalanche in the PacWest quarter-finals. (Tree Frog Imaging photo)

Joel Kleingeltink and the Cascades take on the COTR Avalanche in the PacWest quarter-finals. (Tree Frog Imaging photo)

MVB: Cascades open playoff run vs. Avalanche

Cascades (14-10, 4th in PacWest) vs. College of the Rockies Avalanche (9-15, 5th in PacWest)

Thursday, 8 p.m., Columbia Place

Webcast: pacwestbc.tv

Tournament website

The Cascades take on the College of the Rockies Avalanche in the PacWest quarter-finals.

The Rockies are a team the Cascades have beaten three times in four tries this season – the two teams split a weekend set in Cranbrook in November, and UFV swept a pair of home games in January.

Donen, though, is quick to point out that the latter games in Abbotsford weren’t a fair gauge of the Avalanche’s ability – they were playing their third and fourth games in a four-day span.

“It’s a different type of match when you have that kind of schedule,” Donen noted. “We know they’re a team we’re capable of beating, but we have to be prepared for whatever they’re going to throw our way. I think both teams are closely matched, and we just need to play our game and play smart.

“I definitely think it’s going to be an emotional game, being that it’s playoffs, and the fourth-fifth game is usually one of the closer matches.”

The Cascades are led by the likes of right side Joel Kleingeltink and left side Adam Chaplin, who finished third and seventh, respectively, in the PacWest in total offence. Kleingeltink racked up 4.16 points per set, while Chaplin chipped in with 3.89. Defensively, libero Isaiah Dahl sets the tone for UFV – he led the league in digs per set (3.69).

The Avalanche counter with a dynamic attacking duo of their own. Australian left side Patrik Toze was eighth in the PacWest in total offence (3.80 points per set), just behind Chaplin, while Brazilian right side Julio Lins registered 2.81 points per set.

Donen believes his team will benefit from its taste of the playoffs last year – taking on a heavily favoured CBC squad in the 2015 PacWest quarter-finals, they dropped an epic five-set match.

“We had some great moments last year, but we also had some moments where we looked like we were in the playoffs for the first time in a while,” Donen recalled with a chuckle. “We have a stronger group, I think, with being comfortable in playoffs, which I think is going to help us.”

The UFV-COTR victor advances to a semifinal match-up with the No. 1-seeded Camosun Chargers (Friday, 8 p.m.), and the winner of that game could potentially earn an automatic trip to the CCAA national championship. The No. 2 seed Douglas Royals are hosting nationals at their New Westminster campus, and if they’re victorious in the other PacWest semifinal, their opponent in the final would receive the conference’s only available berth to nationals (Douglas already has a host berth).

Monique Huber and the Cascades women's volleyball team clash with the Douglas Royals in their PacWest playoff opener. (Tree Frog Imaging photo)

Monique Huber and the Cascades women’s volleyball team clash with the Douglas Royals in their PacWest playoff opener. (Tree Frog Imaging photo)

WVB: Cascades aim to break through vs. Royals

Cascades (9-15, 5th in PacWest) vs. Douglas Royals (12-12, 4th in PacWest)

Thursday, 6 p.m., Columbia Place

Webcast: pacwestbc.tv

Tournament website

The Cascades will be seeking their first win of the season against the Douglas Royals in their PacWest quarter-final match-up.

The Royals swept a pair of games against UFV in October in New Westminster, and repeated the feat in Abbotsford two weeks ago, though the Cascades did manage to take them to five sets in the finale of the season series.

The playoffs are a brand new season, though.

“I’m hoping that the girls have that fight in them that playoffs should bring out,” Gilray said. “We’ve been resting, trying to get healthy, trying to prepare so that we have the freshest legs possible going in. We’re going to work hard this week to solidify our game.”

The Cascades’ well-rounded lineup is led by fifth-year setter Nicole Blandford, who sparks her team with her ball distribution and serving. Her 0.56 aces per set rank fourth in PacWest, and in partnership with middle Monique Huber (0.63 aces/set, third in PacWest), UFV can exert a lot of pressure from the service line. Left sides Kelly Robertson and Rachel Funk both rank in the top 15 in the league in kills and digs, and libero Amy Davidson leads the defence with 3.92 digs per set, third-most in PacWest.

Juliana Penner (3.41 points/set, fourth in PacWest) and Darby Dunn (3.07 points/set, eighth) pace the Royals’ attack, which is guided by setter Jessica Funk, sister of UFV’s Rachel Funk.

“Douglas is a great team – they’re extremely well-balanced, and (Royals head coach) Kyra (Iannone) is an amazing game-planner, so she’ll know us inside and out,” Gilray said. “We need to match that with our energy and excitement to be in the playoffs. It’s a one-gamer, so anything can happen in that match.”

The winner of the UFV-Douglas quarter-final advances to meet the No. 1 seed Vancouver Island University Mariners in the semis (Friday, 6 p.m.).

The Cascades dropped their last six games of the regular season, but Gilray noted that they’d still be playing Douglas in their playoff opener even if they’d won half of those games.

“I think the biggest thing we’ve worked on all year is learning from our mistakes,” he said. “I think sometimes losses make you focus more on cleaning up some of those errors.

“It’s always nice to be going in on a winning trend because your confidence is up, but I think these girls are mentally tough and prepared. They’re able to see what’s in front of them, and the opportunities that they have.”

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The University of the Fraser Valley is situated on the unceded traditional territory of the Stó:lō peoples. The Stó:lō have an intrinsic relationship with what they refer to as S’olh Temexw (Our Sacred Land); therefore, we express our gratitude and respect for the honour of living and working in this territory.

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