UFV men's volleyballers fend off Bearcats, claim final playoff berth in dramatic fashion
Their entire season boiled down to one set on Saturday evening, but it was hardly uncharted territory for the University of the Fraser Valley men's volleyball team.
The Cascades have had their backs to the wall for two weeks, needing to win their final four games of the regular season to clinch the sixth and final PacWest conference playoff berth.
The UFV men climbed that mountain, winning a pair of games vs. the College of the Rockies Avalanche last weekend and then beating their crosstown rivals, the Columbia Bible College Bearcats, twice this week.
They capped the journey with a dramatic five-set triumph on Saturday at Columbia Place.
With a capacity crowd supplying an electric atmosphere, the Cascades edged the Bearcats (25-15, 25-13, 19-25, 26-28, 15-12) to punch their playoff ticket and simultaneously eliminate the CBC men from post-season contention.
"We weren't even fazed, really," UFV fifth-year middle Trevor Nickel said afterward, reflecting on the win-or-go-home stakes his team faced over the past four games.
"We knew what we had to do, and every single game was like every single point – we just went one at a time, one at a time. We didn't really think about what we had to do in the end. We just took it slowly, and we knew if we competed like that as a team, we could do it."
After beating the Bearcats in four sets at home on Thursday, the Cascades looked to be in good shape to complete the sweep Saturday, as they took the first two sets. But CBC clawed its way back, winning the next two to force a decisive fifth set.
UFV reeled off three points to open the set, only to watch the Bearcats battled back once again to knot the score 12-12. But the Cascades dug deep and came up with three more points.
The PacWest provincial volleyball championships run at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook this week, and the Cascades (6-18) face the third-place Camosun Chargers (15-9) in the quarter-finals on Thursday. They surely won't be favoured, but they're playing their best ball of the season at the right time.
"We're peaking right now," Nickel asserted, "so we're not afraid of anyone. We're ready."
The defeat undoubtedly stings for the Bearcats, but head coach Phil Wiens was proud of the way his players rallied.
"We played our best, we went out swinging, and you can't ask for more," he noted. "We had four rookies on the floor, and I was really impressed with how they played, how they battled."
UFV WOMEN LOCK UP FIRST PLACE
On the women's side, the Cascades swept the Bearcats in three sets both nights to clinch the first PacWest regular season title in program history.
The UFV women (22-2) are ranked No. 1 in the nation, and they'll also be the top seed at provincials. They play the winner of the Capilano Blues and the Camosun Chargers in the semifinals on Friday.
"It's pretty exciting, and it probably hasn't set in yet," Cascades coach Dennis Bokenfohr said, reflecting on finishing first in the regular season. "It's the product of good, hard work the girls have put in this year."
The Bearcats (13-11) knew going into the games with UFV that they'd be the No. 3 seed at provincials regardless. They take on the sixth-place Douglas Royals (6-18) in the quarter-finals, and if they win, they'd face the No. 2-seeded Vancouver Island University Mariners (21-3) in the semis with a berth to nationals on the line.
The CBC women upset VIU back in October, and they'll surely draw some confidence from that.
"It was early in the first semester, so it's only a little bit of confidence," CBC coach Duncan Harrison noted with a chuckle.
"But we said at the start of the season that if we were healthy at the end, we could do something special."
BEARCATS HOOPSTERS MISS PLAYOFFS
The CBC basketball teams closed the book on their campaign with a series of losses on Vancouver Island.
The Bearcats men had a mathematical shot at reaching the PacWest post-season, but those dreams were snuffed as they were blown out 103-73 by VIU on Friday and 92-65 by Camosun Saturday.
Those defeats dropped the Bearcats to 6-15, two games back of the Chargers for the sixth and final playoff berth.
The CBC women's hoopsters fell 104-32 to VIU and 99-47 to Camosun, wrapping up the season with an 0-21 record.