Mariners rally past Cascades in PacWest semifinal

Cascades middle Monique Huber works around a VIU Mariners block during Friday's PacWest semifinal match at Columbia Bible College.

Cascades middle Monique Huber works around a VIU Mariners block during Friday’s PacWest semifinal match at Columbia Bible College.

The University of the Fraser Valley women’s volleyball team got off to a fantastic start in their PacWest semifinal clash with the Vancouver Island University Mariners, but the No. 2-ranked team in the nation battled back to win in four sets.

Playing at Columbia Bible College, the Cascades staggered the Mariners in the opening set, winning 25-21, and they carried that momentum into the second, building a 13-7 lead. But VIU, which posted a PacWest-leading 20-4 record during the regular season, came roaring back to win 25-23, and they won the next two sets 25-17 and 25-10 to close out the match.

The No. 5-seeded Cascades will face the No. 2 Capilano Blues in the bronze medal game at 1 p.m. on Saturday at CBC, while the No. 1 Mariners move on to face the No. 6 College of the Rockies Avalanche for the PacWest gold medal at 6 p.m.

Afterward, UFV head coach Mike Gilray noted that the end of the second set was the turning point of the match.

“I thought we were the better team for two games tonight, but we weren’t able to finish out the second one,” he said. “We had a pretty comfortable lead, but they started to fight back. We were playing well enough to win the match, but we just could not side out in our rotation.

“I think if we were to have gotten up 2-0, it’s a big hole for them to dig out of. But instead they win, and it’s 1-1 and they’ve got the momentum.”

The Cascades had a hot start, opening an 8-4 lead in the first set behind some strong play from middle Mandelyn Erikson and left side Rachel Funk. The Mariners battled back to even terms, but the Cascades pulled away once again with some timely blocks and digs.

UFV was strong at the net early in the second set to build a six-point lead, but the Mariners clawed their way back and scored the last three points of the set to prevail by the minimum two points.

The third set featured some lengthy rallies, but VIU won the majority of those long points down the stretch to go up 2-1. In the fourth, the Nanaimo squad built a 16-10 lead, then went on a huge game-ending run, highlighted by a series of aces, to punch their ticket to the final and earn one of the PacWest’s two berths to the CCAA national championships.

Afterward, Gilray said he was proud of his team.

“We fought hard – there was no give-up,” he said. “I think they’re feeling a little bummed. They’ve been amazing at having each other’s backs and supporting each other all the way through.

“I think we’ll be ready tomorrow to show that fight again.”

The Cascades performed admirably on defence and at the service line, with Gilray’s statistics showing his team essentially matched its strong performance in those departments from Thursday’s quarter-final win over the Douglas Royals. The difference was, UFV’s hitters weren’t as efficient against VIU – they hit just four per cent as a team, with 35 kills against 30 errors.

“We just couldn’t put kills away,” Gilray noted.

Funk was the Cascades’ player of the game, while Erikson hit a team-high 18 per cent and Kelly Robertson paced the team with 11 kills. Libero Amy Davidson led five players in double figures with 18 digs – the Cascades totalled 84 digs as a team.

– with files from Kyle Donen

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