UFV's Kira Tome (12) and Kierra Noot (10) go up for a block against Alyssa Wolf of the Vancouver Island University Mariners on Friday. The Mariners won Friday's opener

UFV's Kira Tome (12) and Kierra Noot (10) go up for a block against Alyssa Wolf of the Vancouver Island University Mariners on Friday. The Mariners won Friday's opener

PacWest wrap: Cascades dig deep to defend No. 1 ranking, split series vs. No. 2 VIU

Four battles this season between Canada's top two teams has settled absolutely nothing. But wow, has it ever been fun to watch.

Four heavyweight battles this season between Canada’s top two women’s college volleyball teams has settled absolutely nothing.

But wow, has it ever been fun to watch.

The University of the Fraser Valley Cascades, No. 1 in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) rankings, hosted the No. 2-ranked Vancouver Island University Mariners on the weekend, and split the two-game set.

The Mariners won Friday’s opener in four sets (25-21, 25-19, 18-25, 25-20) at the Envision Athletic Centre, but the Cascades came roaring back for a wildly entertaining five-set triumph (25-23, 25-15, 16-25, 19-25, 15-11) on Saturday afternoon.

The two teams had split a pair of games in Nanaimo back in November, and it’s not hard to envision them adding a couple more chapters to their rivalry at the provincial and national championships.

“We’re one and two in the country right now for a reason, and there’s not much between us except an early mishap by them at the start of the season,” UFV coach Dennis Bokenfohr noted afterward, alluding to VIU’s loss to another Abbotsford squad, the Columbia Bible College Bearcats, in October.

“We’re well aware that they’re a very strong team. It’s right where it needs to be at the end of the season.”

On Friday, the Mariners showed why they’re the reigning national champs, while Bokenfohr felt his team lacked energy.

On Saturday, the Cascades came out on fire – they built a 22-15 lead in the first set before fending off a late VIU rally to win 25-23, and they cruised to a 25-15 win in the second. Middles Kayla Bruce and Kierra Noot were dominating at the net, and outside hitter Katie Bilodeau was borderline unstoppable in the early going.

But the Mariners showcased some incredibly tough defence en route to winning the next two sets, and fourth-year outside hitter Leanna Gildersleeve supplied much of the offence.

In the decisive fifth set, the two teams were tied 8-8, but Kira Tome and Jenna Evans stepped to the forefront for UFV. Tome served for five consecutive points, while Evans hammered down three clutch kills as the Cascades pulled away. Krista Hogewoning closed out the match with a block of Gildersleeve.

UFV improved to 18-2 in PacWest conference play, while VIU is right behind them at 17-3.

Afterward, Bruce said her team got caught up in the No. 1-vs.-No. 2 hype and played a little nervous on Friday. To salvage a split on Saturday, then, was a major confidence booster.

“We really just wanted to hold onto that No. 1 spot, and we really worked hard for it,” Bruce said. “It really picks up the team morale, and what we’re working for in the end, it just gets us that much closer.”

“It was a great match-up, and we didn’t need to build it up – it was just one we wanted more than anything else,” Bokenfohr echoed.

• In other PacWest women’s volleyball action, CBC split a weekend set at home vs. the Camosun Chargers. The Bearcats, ranked No. 14 in the nation, won in five sets on Friday, but Camosun came charging back for a four-set win Saturday. CBC (11-9) is third in the PacWest, while Camosun (8-12) is fourth.

• On the men’s volleyball scene, UFV and CBC are coming down to the wire in their battle for the sixth and final PacWest playoff berth. Both teams are tied at 2-18 with four games to go in the regular season – including a home-and-home set Feb. 14 and 16 which will prove decisive.

Both teams were swept at home on the weekend. The Cascades fell in three sets both nights to VIU, while the Bearcats lost in four on Friday and in three on Saturday to Camosun.

• The CBC men’s basketball team is on the playoff bubble as the regular season approaches its conclusion.

The Bearcats knocked off the third-place Quest Kermodes 97-78 on Thursday, but dropped a heartbreaking 68-67 decision to the Capilano Blues on Saturday on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. CBC and Capilano are tied for the sixth and final PacWest playoff berth at 6-11.

The Bearcats women’s hoopsters lost 87-55 to Quest and 74-60 to Capilano to fall to 0-17 on the season.

• All six local PacWest programs play at home this weekend.

The College of the Rockies volleyball teams make the trip from Cranbrook to play a combined eight games in Abbotsford – they face the Bearcats on Thursday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) and Friday (women 1 p.m., men 3 p.m.), and they take on the Cascades on Saturday and Sunday (women 12 p.m., men 2 p.m. both days).

The CBC basketball teams host the Douglas Royals on Friday and the Langara Falcons on Saturday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m. both days).