A sombre huddle earlier in the playoffs. Photo by Greystoke Photography
A sombre huddle earlier in the playoffs. Photo by Greystoke Photography

After a historic season, the UBCO Heat women’s volleyball team ended up coming 4 points short of the national tournament. Ranked second in Canada going into the playoffs, the Heat swept 2014 Canadian champion Manitoba in the first round but lost to 4th-ranked Trinity Western in their first Final Four matchup, going five sets with the eventual Canada West Champions. After going down 1-2 then surging back strong in the fourth to force a decisive fifth frame, the Heat were unable to complete the comeback. They fell 12-15 and were relegated to the bronze medal match.

With only three Canada West teams advancing to the national stage, UBCO faced off against cross-campus rival UBC Van, the only team to sweep the Heat this season. Despite being ranked low in the Top 10, UBC has won six of the past seven national championships. And that experience showed as the Thunderbirds took out the Heat in four sets.

The matchup was a tale of two UBCS, one big and one small, one established and one new. Vancouver is an originator of the conference and the winner of every national championship from 2008 to 2013, but lumbered through the regular season barely breaking .500. Okanagan, on the other hand, is an upstart in only its fourth year of university-league play and has never played in the CIS Nationals, but has had a historic season and was ranked the best team in Canada during January.

Team put together Heat’s best season since joining university league

Despite how things ended, the Heat women's .792 regular-season winning percentage was the best ever posted by any of the volleyball teams added to Canada West in 21st century. It's tied for third-best regular season of any basketball, volleyball, or soccer team added to Canada West in the 21st century—a total of 152 seasons (and the second-place team, MacEwan WBB 2014-15, comes with an asterisk because all its games were against other recent additions due to the new Explorer Division).

"This team is doing unbelievable things, almost unimaginable things this early in our program,” head coach Steve Manuel told UBCO Athletics after the season-ending loss, “...we have gotten further than expected, and we fully expect that the same thing will happen again next year and the year after that.” Manuel added that the team needs to work on keeping their play strong this late in the season, something that they’re not used to because they’re so new.

Finishing fourth in the conference for the second year in a row is a disappointing end for the Heat, who were ranked top three in Canada for almost the whole season. Despite their strong overall record, the Heat were always in danger of an upset because Canada West is the hands-down strongest conference in the nation. The regular season ended with six Western teams in the Top 10, but still only three national tournament spots available for the west.

After being swept by UBC Van on Halloween, UBCO came back with a vengeance, winning 13 straight games and rocketing to the number one spot in the conference and the country. But a surprise loss to the Canada West’s worst team at the time, in the second-last weekend of play, dropped the Heat’s record into a tie with Alberta and Trinity Western. The Heat lost the seeding tiebreakers based on sets lost in the season, and this cost them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. This became a key factor—of the Heat’s five regular-season losses, four came on the road.

The Heat will lose only one player to graduation, Myrte Schon, meaning this squad will be intact for another run at the title next year. That squad includes two current All-Stars, Katy Klomps and Katie Wuttunee, as well as 2011/12 All-Star Emily Oxland.