The University of the Fraser Valley volleyball teams launch what is sure to be a historic 2017-18 PACWEST campaign this week.
The Cascades open the regular season with a home-and-home set vs. their crosstown rivals, the Columbia Bible College Bearcats. The two programs clash at Columbia Place on Thursday, and return to the Envision Financial Athletic Centre for games on Friday. The women play at 6 p.m. both nights, followed by the men at 8 p.m.
The historic element of the impending season comes in the new year, as the Cascades host the PACWEST volleyball championships for the first time. The men’s and women’s tournaments run Feb. 22-24 at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre.
2016-17 SEASON IN REVIEW
Regular-season record: 9-15 (5th in PACWEST)
Post-season record: 0-1 (lost in PACWEST quarter-finals)
As the UFV women’s volleyball team prepares to embark on 2017-18, head coach Mike Gilray believes that high-level competition for playing time at every position will spark growth and help the Cascades climb the PACWEST standings.
The Cascades finished fifth in the conference last season with a 9-15 record and made a first-round playoff exit, but a strong core of returnees and an outstanding recruiting class fuels optimism heading into the new season.
“We want battles in all positions, and that’s something we’ve been trying to build,” Gilray said. “We don’t want it to be, ‘Hey, you’re returning, it’s yours.’ We’re trying to bring in recruits who can push (for playing time).
“We can’t stay the same, unless we want to keep finishing in the middle of the pack. We want to finish higher than that, and the league got younger this year. There were a lot of fifth-years who graduated from other teams, a lot of turnover.”
The Cascades’ depth is perhaps best illustrated by the battle for playing time in the middle. Fifth-year captain Monique Huber leads the group, and third-year Keira Fisher and sophomores Hanna Hieltjes and Teagan Johnstone are also returning. Rookie Lauren Poirier, at 6’3”, has outstanding potential.
At the outside hitter spots, fourth-year Kim Bauder brings great versatility with her ball-control and offensive ability, and returnees Cassidy Pearson and Chelsea Kidd have both had great off-seasons. Redshirt freshman Amanda Matsui is a potential impact player, and true freshman Alexis Edwards is a proven winner at the high school level.
First-year setter Olivia Heinen is one of the league’s top recruits, and she’ll be pushed by versatile sophomore Kara Williams, who sat out last season due to injury after starting at right side as a rookie.
At libero, incumbent starter Amy Davidson returns, and returnee Cassidy King and blue-chip recruit Karissa Marazzi are highly capable options.
“I’m so excited about how our players worked in the off-season,” Gilray said. “Each one of them is slightly faster, hitting just a bit harder, jumping just a bit higher. Those increases physically are big in this league.”