Volleyball weekend preview: Cascades head east to take on Avalanche

The University of the Fraser Valley volleyball teams embark on their longest road trip of the season this week, as they face the College of the Rockies Avalanche in Cranbrook, B.C.

WVB: Cascades aim for season sweep of Avalanche

Kara Williams, Hanna Hieltjes and the Cascades swept the COTR Avalanche in Abbotsford back in November.

Friday, Feb. 9: No. 7 Cascades (12-8, 3rd in PACWEST) at College of the Rockies Avalanche (6-16, 6th in PACWEST), 6 p.m. MT

Saturday, Feb. 10: Cascades at Avalanche, 1 p.m. MT

Webcast: pacwestbc.tv

A 12-hour bus ride doesn’t sound like many people’s idea of a good time, nor does it necessarily promote peak athletic performance. But despite the challenges that the travel can add, head coach Mike Gilray said his squad is looking forward it.

“There’s some really cool energy,” he said. “The girls see it as a chance to hang out and bond. They’re excited for this opportunity.

“We’re trying to create a routine through our travel that puts us in the best position to succeed when we arrive. I think that’s important any time you’re not playing in your own gym or sleeping in your own bed. We’re trying to help our players take care of the details.”

The Cascades and Avalanche clashed in Abbotsford back in November, with UFV winning both matches, but Gilray noted that COTR was an injury-depleted group at that point and will pose a tougher test this time around.

Players to watch: Cascades first-year left side Amanda Matsui is coming off an outstanding weekend against VIU, earning PACWEST women’s volleyball athlete of the week honours after helping UFV pick up a split. The Port Coquitlam, B.C. product is one of just three players to rank in the conference’s top 10 in total offence (T-second, 4.0 points/set), aces (first, 0.67/set), kills (fourth, 3.15/set) and digs (10th, 2.85/set). On the other side of the net, third-year right side Megan Beckett has been COTR’s offensive engine – she’s sixth in PACWEST in kills (2.93/set) and seventh in total offence (3.28/set).

MVB: Cascades look to boost playoff seeding at Avalanche’s expense

Matt Whittall (15), Dayton Pagliericci (16) and the Cascades are looking to bounce back against COTR after dropping two games to VIU last weekend.

Friday, Feb. 9: Cascades (9-11, 5th in PACWEST) at College of the Rockies Avalanche (4-18, T-6th in PACWEST), 8 p.m. MT

Saturday, Feb. 10: Cascades at Avalanche, 3 p.m. MT

Webcast: pacwestbc.tv

Coming off a weekend sweep at the hands of the CCAA No. 1-ranked VIU Mariners, the Cascades slipped from third to fifth in the PACWEST standings – and out of the top-15 national rankings entirely (they had been at No. 15).

They’re within arm’s reach of improving their playoff seeding, though, sitting just two games back of the third-place Douglas Royals (11-9) and one game back of the Camosun Chargers (10-10). Both of those teams have extremely tough schedules to finish the season, taking turns facing VIU and Capilano (both 17-3).

This weekend, the Cascades ought not underestimate a COTR squad which is fighting for its own playoff life. They’re tied for the conference’s sixth and final playoff berth with the Columbia Bible College Bearcats (both at 4-18).

“We know we’re playing a desperate team,” UFV head coach Kyle Donen said. “They’ll be grinding for set wins as much as they’ll be grinding for match wins, so we expect it to be a battle – and a pretty hostile environment to play in, as well.

“But I think we’re up to the challenge. We’ve done some good things the last couple weeks, we just haven’t gotten the winning results yet. I feel good about where we’re at heading into the weekend, and it’s a good chance for our team to bond. Being on a bus for 12 hours will do that. I think we’re looking forward to that as much as the games.”

Last semester the Cascades swept the Avalanche in Abbotsford, winning a five-setter on Nov. 18 and a four-setter on Nov. 19.

Players to watch: There are family connections between UFV and COTR’s volleyball programs – Cascades third-year right side Matt Whittall’s younger sister Taylor is a rookie with the Avalanche. The elder Whittall is a key contributor for the Cascades, ranking fourth on the team in both kills (1.67/set) and total offence (1.90 points/set). The Avalanche are paced offensively by sophomore outside hitter Matt Cespedes, who is 15th in PACWEST in total offence (2.89 points/set).

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