In a crosstown rivalry as heated as the one between the Columbia Bible College and the University of the Fraser Valley volleyball teams, wins are always at a premium.
But for Connor Nickel, a rookie middle with the CBC Bearcats, his team’s two-game sweep of the Cascades last week to wrap up the PacWest regular season was particularly sweet. That’s because his older brother Trevor is a fourth-year middle with the UFV squad.
“I guess it gives me a little smack talk for around home,” the younger Nickel said with a wide grin on Friday, after his team’s second straight five-set win over the Cascades. “It’s really satisfying.”
The Bearcats men, the defending national champs who currently sit No. 10 in the national rankings, were certainly favoured, but the Cascades pushed them to the limit on Thursday and Friday at Columbia Place.
While UFV fell both nights – 16-14 in the fifth set on Thursday and 15-13 on Friday – they did just enough to earn the PacWest’s sixth and final playoff berth. They finished tied with College of the Rockies at 7-17, but claimed the tiebreaker because they’ve won more sets this season (36-32).
The Cascades’ reward? They get to play the third-place Bearcats (16-8) again on Thursday in the first round of the PacWest playoff tourney at Douglas College in New Westminster (8 p.m. start).
UFV bench boss Greg Russell said the fact his team played CBC so tough gives them plenty of belief heading into a huge post-season match-up.
“We needed to play like that to give ourselves a real shot,” Russell said. “I think we can do something in the playoffs.”
The Bearcats men are already assured of a berth to the national championships, by virtue of the fact they’re hosting the event March 8-10. But head coach Rocky Olfert wants to see his team find a new level of consistency as the season reaches its peak.
“As a team, we’re just trying to be more steady,” he said. “We’ll get a big lead or play really well in one set, and then we’ll drop off a little bit. We need to get to that next level if we want to do well in the playoffs.”
CASCADES WOMEN SWEEP PAST BEARCATS
On the women’s side, the Cascades, ranked No. 4 in the nation, got all they could handle from a fast-maturing Bearcats squad.
The CBC women tested UFV both nights, but the Cascades prevailed in four sets on Thursday, and won a five-set thriller on Friday.
The series ended on a heartbreaking note for the Bearcats. With UFV leading 15-14 in the fifth set and serving for the win, libero Hannah Antonio mishandled the serve and sent it into the rafters to give the Cascades the winning point.
It was a tough way for the graduating fifth-year senior to finish the final home game of her college career, and she dapped at tears throughout a post-game ceremony honouring her.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” acknowledged Bearcats coach Duncan Harrison. “But that’s a character kid who’s been a big part of the culture on our campus.
“I know that she knows she’s got another crack at it in conference playoffs. We’re super proud of her. She’s been a great member of our team.”
The youthful CBC squad (11-12) has made huge strides in the second half of the season, and they advance to the PacWest playoffs as the No. 4 seed, where they’ll face No. 5 Camosun Chargers in the first round.
“We’ve learned to be a team, and not a group of individuals,” Harrison said. “We’re very happy with where we’re at right now.”
The No. 2 seeded Cascades (20-4) have a bye to the semifinals, and they’re focused on earning the program’s first-ever national championship berth.
“We’re really optimistic – we’ve been waiting all year for this,” head coach Dennis Bokenfohr said. “We’ll be really amped up to play whomever it may be next Friday.”