The University of the Fraser Valley volleyball teams are in Nanaimo this weekend with their sights set on PACWEST gold.
Vancouver Island University is the host site for the PACWEST volleyball championships, and the Cascades men’s and women’s teams are seeded second and fifth, respectively, as they begin their pursuit of podium positions and CCAA national championship berths.
MVB: Cascades play for national championship berth on Friday
Friday: Cascades (17-7, 2nd in PACWEST) vs. Camosun/Capilano winner, semifinals, 3 p.m.
Saturday: PACWEST bronze (3 p.m.) or gold (8 p.m.) medal game
Even before they’ve played a single playoff game, the Cascades can take credit for advancing further than any UFV men’s volleyball team since 2010. That year was the last time the program made an appearance in the PACWEST semifinals, and the last time they registered a post-season victory. The Cascades claimed the conference silver medal that season.
Head coach Kyle Donen’s present-day edition of the squad punched their semifinal ticket by finishing second during the regular season and earning one of two first-round byes. But they’re not satisfied by any means – one more win will not only advance them to the PACWEST championship game, it would earn them one of the conference’s two CCAA national championship berths.
“I think having the bye means a lot to this team,” said Donen, whose team is ranked No. 7 in the nation. “In previous years, a lot of people would say a bye is a blessing or a curse. But for a team that’s never won a playoff game, I think it’s a boost to our confidence to know that we’ve already done that (qualified for the semis).
“I think we’ve put ourselves in the best position to be successful.”
The Cascades will face the winner of Thursday’s quarter-final match between the No. 3-seeded Camosun Chargers (14-10) and the No. 6 Capilano Blues (10-14). UFV has fared well against both teams this season, going 3-1 against Camosun and 4-0 vs. Capilano.
“We’ve played really well against both of those teams, and I like how we match up against them,” Donen said. “I think having a chance to watch them play the night before will give us a fresh take on what to expect in the semis, and help us acclimatize to the level of intensity in the playoffs.”
WVB: Cascades look to make a deep run
Thursday: Cascades (9-15, fifth in PACWEST) vs. College of the Rockies Avalanche (10-14, fourth in PACWEST), quarter-finals, 6 p.m.
Friday: UFV/COTR winner vs. VIU Mariners (19-5, first in PACWEST), semifinals, 6 p.m.
Saturday: PACWEST bronze (1 p.m.) or gold (6 p.m.) medal game, pending Thursday/Friday results
Two weeks ago, the Cascades’ scheduled trip to Cranbrook to play the College of the Rockies Avalanche was cancelled due to dangerous road conditions. How appropriate, then, that the UFV and COTR women’s squads would get to make up for lost time with a head-to-head match-up in the PACWEST quarter-finals.
“We were excited to go there and play and it didn’t work out, so this is a good opportunity to get that game in,” Cascades head coach Mike Gilray noted with a chuckle.
Between them, the Cascades and Avalanche comprised two-thirds of the PACWEST second all-star team, announced Wednesday. UFV’s sibling duo of setter Jessica and left side Rachel Funk were voted to the squad alongside COTR outside hitters Alex Koshman and Adriel Goodman.
Thursday’s winner moves on to face the top-seeded host squad, the VIU Mariners, in the semifinals on Friday.
“They’ve got a couple of left sides (Koshman and Goodman) we definitely need to slow down, but we’ve got two great left sides as well (Rachel Funk and Kim Bauder), and it’s going to be a great game,” Gilray predicted. “There are some really athletic hitters who are going to make it a fun match to watch, that’s for sure.”
Being a slight underdog according to the seeding shouldn’t faze Gilray’s squad – last season, they pulled off a modest upset as the No. 5 seed in the first round, knocking off the No. 4 Douglas Royals.