Senior libero Brittany Stewart and the UFV Cascades are the top seed at the national championship tournament

Senior libero Brittany Stewart and the UFV Cascades are the top seed at the national championship tournament

Cascades, ‘Cats have their eyes on the prize at women’s volleyball nationals

Abbotsford's college women's volleyball teams find themselves cast in vastly different roles at CCAA nationals this week.

Abbotsford’s college women’s volleyball teams are both at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) national championships this week, but they find themselves cast in vastly different roles.

The University of the Fraser Valley Cascades are the pre-tournament favourites – after spending the majority of the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, they’re the top seed at the national tourney, which is being hosted by Lakeland College in the Alberta/Saskatchewan border town of Lloydminster.

Being billed as the frontrunner comes with a dose of pressure, but head coach Dennis Bokenfohr doesn’t believe it will faze his team.

“I’ve told the players I’ll take all the pressure, they just have to go out there and perform,” he said.

“(The No. 1 ranking) is nothing more than something that someone’s put upon us. More than anything else, it’s just flattering.”

The Cascades open against the Mount Saint Vincent University Mystics of Halifax in the quarter-finals on Thursday. They have some familiarity with MSVU – at last year’s nationals in Nanaimo, they faced the Mystics in their second game of the tourney and beat them en route to a bronze medal.

“It builds comfort, because we kind of have an idea what we’re facing,” Bokenfohr noted. “We’re definitely not going to take them lightly.”

While the Cascades are the favourites, the Columbia Bible College Bearcats are among the underdogs.

The Bearcats stunned many observers simply by qualifying for nationals, knocking off the defending CCAA champion Vancouver Island University Mariners in the PacWest semifinals to punch their ticket.

They’re seeded seventh in the eight-team draw, and they take on the No. 2-seeded Collège Édouard-Montpetit Lynx, the Quebec league champions, in the quarter-finals.

For a team making its national championship debut, it might be understandable if the Bearcats fell into the mental trap of simply being happy to be there.

But head coach Duncan Harrison doesn’t think that will be an issue. He noted that B.C. teams have traditionally fared well on the national stage regardless of seeding, and said his team is focused on making the most of their opportunity.

“We’ve always believed that if we can get out of our conference, we have a great chance at a medal at nationals,” he said. “The players are very focused – it’s been a very positive week of practice.”

Looking ahead to his team’s match-up with the Lynx, Harrison said the Bearcats would have to “execute very well” in order to beat them.

“They have some very strong players, and they’re a very complete team – very good defensively,” he said.