The University of the Fraser Valley women’s volleyball team climbed the PACWEST podium for the first time in five years, defeating the Capilano Blues in the conference bronze medal match.
The Cascades, hosting the championships at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre, made home court advantage work for them on Saturday afternoon, prevailing by scores of 25-18, 25-20 and 25-22.
It’s the first conference medal for the UFV women’s program since 2013, when the team swept the PACWEST conference and CCAA national titles.
Afterward, Cascades head coach Mike Gilray noted the difficulty of winning a bronze medal match, due to the emotional deflation that naturally occurs after a semifinal loss. UFV was coming off a four-set defeat to the VIU Mariners in the semis on Friday.
“We were devastated not to win that semifinal, not just to have a chance to play for gold, but to go to the national championship,” Gilray said. “There was a lot lost yesterday. To be able to turn that around and compete, to play for the love of the game and all the work and the training that you’ve done, is huge.
“It’s a stepping stone. We’re looking to continue to improve.”
Setter Olivia Heinen was the Cascades’ player of the match, dishing out 35 assists and adding two aces. Under her direction, UFV’s attack was highly diversified – Keira Fisher and Amanda Matsui tied for team-high honours with nine kills apiece, Kim Bauder had eight, and Hanna Hieltjes had seven.
UFV’s middles were outstanding – Fisher was dangerous from the service line, racking up five aces and firing 18 serves in total, and Hieltjes added three blocks. Bauder (15), Cassidy King (13) and Matsui (nine) were the Cascades’ leaders in digs.
The Blues caught a tough break midway through the first set, when PACWEST first team all-star Tyneille Neufeld exited the game due to injury and did not return. Libero Tracy Ewashkiw was Capilano’s player of the match, registering 15 digs. Outside hitter Isabela Lima paced the offence with 11 kills and added four digs, and middle Courtney Becker had four blocks and five digs.
Gilray said the Cascades were motivated to secure a medal for fifth-year middle Monique Huber, who was sidelined due to injury.
“The comment we gave them at the start of the game was, ‘Play for that person beside you today,’” Gilray said. “I think this team has had great energy and great support of each other all season. You could see it at the end there (during the medal ceremony) – they really wanted to bring something home for Mo.”