UFV's Jenna Evans (2) is one of six returning starters on a Cascades team which is aiming to improve on its third-place finish at nationals last season.

UFV's Jenna Evans (2) is one of six returning starters on a Cascades team which is aiming to improve on its third-place finish at nationals last season.

Crosstown rivals clash to open PacWest volleyball season

The college volleyball campaign opens with a bang this weekend, as the Bearcats and Cascades re-iginte their heated crosstown rivalry.

The college volleyball season opens with a bang this weekend, as the Columbia Bible College Bearcats and University of the Fraser Valley Cascades re-iginte their heated crosstown rivalry.

The ‘Cats and Cascades embark on the PacWest regular season with a home-and-home set: Friday at UFV’s Envision Athletic Centre, and Saturday at Columbia Place. The women’s game starts at 6 p.m. both nights, followed by the men at 8 p.m.

Of the four Abbotsford volleyball teams, the Cascades women are the cream of the crop. They’re coming off a bronze medal at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) nationals last season, and they return 10 players, including six starters – middles Kayla Bruce and Kierra Noot, outside hitters Jenna Evans and Simone Hanson, right side Krista Hogewoning, and libero Brittany Stewart.

That kind of continuity tends to breed success.

“We’re trying to keep going down the same path,” head coach Dennis Bokenfohr noted. “We’re definitely quite a bit further ahead at this point than we were last year. Our goal is to improve upon our bronze medal.”

If the Cascades women are the established powerhouse, their CBC counterparts are the ambitious upstart.

The Bearcats were a playoff team last season with a youthful roster, and they have a core of elite players returning: 6’3″ middle April Van Wieren, sophomore outside hitters Sadie Ball and Jill Ratzlaff, and setter Anna Cupido.

Bokenfohr and CBC bench boss Duncan Harrison form something of a mutual admiration society. Bokenfohr predicted the Bearcats will be a contender this season and said they “definitely have our attention.” Harrison, meanwhile, said his team aspires to reach the Cascades’ level.

“They (UFV) are going to be one of the elite teams in the league, and that’s something we aspire to – not just to get there, but to stay there,” Harrison said. “We’re thankful we’re on that path.

“We’d like to believe there’s a chance we can qualify for the national championship. That’s going to require some fairly big steps – we would have to find a way to take out either (defending national champ) VIU or UFV at some point in order to do that.”

On the men’s side, the last two seasons represented a golden era for the Bearcats. They won the CCAA national championship in 2010-11, and finished fourth as the tournament hosts in 2011-12.

With former head coach/athletic director Rocky Olfert moving on to take the athletic director job at UFV, Phil Wiens – formerly an assistant under Olfert – takes the reins.

He’ll have his work cut out for him, having lost the services of six of last season’s starters, including Will Quiring, Jason Warkentin and Matt Kaminski.

Right side Jadon Ward is the lone returning starter, and the ‘Cats will also look to Emmanuel Denguessi, a former member of the Cameroon national team, and Douglas College transfer Matt Lieuwen for leadership.

“Last year, we were more of a favourite going into most weeks, and this year we might be more of an underdog,” Wiens acknowledged. “But I definitely expect us to finish in the middle of the pack going into provincials . . . and I think we might improve the most out of any team, just because we’re so new.”

It’s a similar story over at UFV, where men’s coach Greg Russell also has a youthful group on his hands. Fifth-year middle Trevor Nickel leads a group of returnees that also includes Josh Togeretz and Robert Bauerfind, and Nickel’s younger brother Connor has transferred in from CBC.

“The team’s growing quickly,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of potential with this group. We’re bigger than last year, and the attitude is very good.”