KELOWNA, B.C. – The UBC Okanagan Heat women's volleyball team is off to Saskatoon this week as they open up the first round of the Canada West playoffs with three games hosted by the Saskatchewan Huskies.
The Heat (8-8), who enter as the third seed from the West division, will open against the Mount Royal Cougars (11-4), the second seed from the Central division on Thursday, March 3 at 6 p.m. PT.
UBCO will then face the host Huskies (14-2), the top seed from the East division, on Friday, March 4 at 4 p.m. PT before wrapping up against the Manitoba Bisons (6-10), the fourth seed from the East division, on Saturday, March 5 at 1 p.m. PT.
All games can be seen live on CanadaWest.tv presented by Co-op
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Heat's 2021-22 regular season got off to a great start as the team flew out of the gates, winning five of their first six games, including an impressive victory over the UBC Thunderbirds on home court to close out the Fall term.
After a win over the Thompson Rivers WolfPack to open up 2022, the Heat would drop their next four games but rebounded with another impressive victory over the Thunderbirds on the road. That victory marked the first time a Heat team had gone into War Memorial Gymnasium in Vancouver and come out with a win.
Following a win the next day over the UFV Cascades, the Heat fell in three straight to close the year but not without some impressive performance. Hosting the top-ranked team in Canada, the Trinity Western Spartans, to close the regular season, UBCO showed they can play with any team in the country as they lost in four and five sets respectively, nearly upsetting the Spartans on the final day of the regular season.
The Heat will need to carry those performances over to the opening round of the playoffs and use the experience gained in those matches as they'll face off against two nationally-ranked opponents this week, needing to beat at least one of them in order to advance to the second round.
Mount Royal Cougars (11-4) – ranked No. 5 in Canada
The Cougars, ranked fifth in U SPORTS, enjoyed a strong year in the Central division as their only defeats came at the hands of the Alberta Pandas, the team ranked No. 2 in the country. Outside of their matches with Alberta, in which they went 2-4, the Cougars dropped only four total sets against Calgary and MacEwan.
Despite going on the road, the Cougars may be the team most likely to advance out of the first round from this group due to their record against top-ranked opposition this year.
Saskatchewan Huskies (14-2) – ranked No. 6 in Canada
The Huskies head into the playoffs as the No. 6 team in U SPORTS after an impressive season in the East division. After a season-opening loss to Brandon, the Huskies won their next eight games in a row. Their only other loss of the season came on the road against Regina when they dropped a five-set match to the Cougars.
In total, the team won eight of their 14 matches via a straight set sweep and they will look to use home court advantage to advance to the second round.
Manitoba Bisons (6-10)
The Bisons lost out on a sets won-lost tiebreaker to the Winnipeg Wesmen to finish as the fourth seed in the East division as they made a late push in the year for the third seed. Manitoba struggled for much of the year, winning just three of their first 13 games but head to Saskatchewan playing their best volleyball of the year, having won three straight matches.
While they will be in an underdog position, they have shown the ability to play with the top teams as they took Saskatchewan to five sets on two occasions this year.
ONE TO WATCH
Sydney Grills - UBCO Heat
- Grills was the Heat's go-to attack option this year and didn't disappoint, putting up 3.2 kills per set, ninth best in Canada West
- She's also a force on defence for UBCO as she totalled 49 blocks on the season, tied for eighth most in the conference
Nyadholi Thokbuom - Mount Royal Cougars
- A member of the Canadian national team, Thokbuom joined the Cougars for the second half of the season and made an instant impact, recording 2.7 kills per set, second best on the team
Mandi Fraser - Saskatchewan Huskies
- The most efficient hitter in the conference, Fraser hit a blistering .451 percent over the course of the season, racking up 143 kills to go with a team-best 51 blocks
Keziah Hoeppner - Manitoba Bisons
- The sophomore outside hitter led the way for the Bisons all season long, posting 189 kills and 27 aces, both team-highs
The Heat will need to finish in first or second place in the group in order to advance to the second round of the Canada West playoffs.
Stay tuned to GoHeat.ca or the @UBCOHeat social channels all week long for complete and up-to-date playoff information.