The Vancouver Island University Mariners punched a pair of tickets – to the PACWEST gold medal match and to the CCAA national championships – by virtue of a four-set win over the host UFV Cascades in the conference semifinals on Friday afternoon.
Playing at UFV’s Envision Financial Athletic Centre, the Mariners started strong, taking the first set 25-21, only to watch the Cascades come roaring back to dominate the second 25-14 with Amanda Matsui leading the charge.
VIU’s strong blocking, combined with UFV’s passing struggles, swung the momentum back to the Nanaimo squad, and they took the third and fourth sets by scores of 25-16 and 25-14.
The Mariners advance to the gold medal match (Saturday, 6 p.m., EFAC), where they’ll face the winner of Friday’s late semifinal featuring the Douglas Royals and Capilano Blues. They also assured themselves of a spot in the CCAA national championships, which will be hosted by Grande Prairie Regional College, March 7-10.
The Cascades, meanwhile, will play for bronze at 1 p.m. Saturday vs. the Douglas-Capilano loser.
“We definitely passed a little better and were offensively strong in that second set, for sure,” UFV head coach Mike Gilray said afterward. “With a blocking team like theirs, and when our passing ended up finishing how it did, it puts a lot of pressure on your hitters. Even just trying to recycle over those blocks is hard. Good on the hitters for trying to do some of that, but they’re a big team.
“When we’re passing at the level we were, they’re able to be in their transition offence, and it’s tough to stop them.”
Middle Taylor Wickson was the Mariners’ player of the match, keying her team’s strong defensive performance at the net with six blocks and adding eight kills. Mikalya Wagner led the VIU offence with 19 kills, Danielle Groenendijk had 13, and Sadie Wilson had 10.
Rookie left side Matsui paced the Cascades in kills (12), digs (16) and blocks (four), and was named her team’s player of the match. Kim Bauder had eight kills and Keira Fisher chipped in with seven for the Cascades. Setter Olivia Heinen registered 34 assists, and Bauder (13) and Cassidy King (11) joined Matsui in double-figure digs.
“These girls have worked extremely hard for this opportunity (to go to nationals), and to have it come to an end today is tough,” Gilray said. “But every time we’ve asked this group to respond, they’ve done an amazing job. We’ve been a bit of an up-and-down team this year with consistency, but when they’ve come off a loss . . . it’s usually one of our best volleyball games. We’re hoping for that turnaround again (in the bronze medal match). They’re a competitive bunch.”