By Warren Henderson - Kelowna Capital News
Published: October 22, 2010 11:00 PM
Canadian Interuniversity Sport awaits.
But first things first for UBC Okanagan’s volleyball programs who will play one more season in the BCCAA before the highly-anticipated step up to the big time.
“We’re starting by focusing on the task at hand and that’s being as competitive as we can be in BCCAA,” said Heat women’s coach Steve Manuel. “We also need to prepare for next year and make sure we’re completely ready for Canada West. It’s going to be an exciting year for us.”
Both Heat volleyball teams will serve up their final campaigns in the BCCAA with opening matches next weekend at CBC and Fraser Valley.
Steve Manuel’s women’s squad will be pursuing its third consecutive B.C. and Canadian collegiate titles.
Greg Poitras and the men are also planning to go out on a positive note after winning a bronze medal last year at nationals.
After competing favourably with a number of CIS teams in the preseason, Manuel is confident the UBCO women will be ready to make the transition—provided the players continue to be committed to improving and growing stronger.
“We’re going to train extremely hard on and off the court, and try to be at our best by the end of the season so we can carry that over,” said Manuel, who along with Poitras became a full-time coach this year. “The teams we’ll be playing at the university level tend to be a bit bigger, a bit more physical, with more overall strength than what you see in college. Players will have a much larger responsibilty to be doing the extra training and flexibility work.”
The Heat women will be led into battle this year by CCAA player of the year Alex Basso and all-star setter Caitlyn Nyhus. In her fifth and final year, Nyhus won’t be back for the move to Canada West, but Basso will have a strong supporting cast with the likes of veterans Kirsten Lawson, Jill Festival and Kaylan Gouldsborough, along with newcomer Mytre Schon from CBC.
This year, the Heat will carry 13 players on its roster, whereas most CIS teams have 14 to 16 players at their disposal.
Manuel said room has been left open for some key new recruits to come on board for next season.
“We feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of recruiting in anticipation of Canada West,” he said. “Most of our players now will be able to make that jump, maybe not in the same roles as they did in college, but that’s part of the move up. It’s a different level of athlete at Canada West. We’ve got some openings for next year and we’ll have no trouble filling those with quality players.”
As for the men’s team, all-Canadians Nate Speijer and Preston Tucker will lead the way in 2010-11, with Mark Broome and Chris Howe supplying added veteran experience.
For head coach Greg Poitras, the final season in BCCAA will be a chance for the Heat’s top players to ramp their games up one more notch in anticipation of facing better competition next year.
“They have a challenge in front of them for sure, guys like Nate and Preston have competed at the top of this league for a few years and have been all-stars,” Poitras said. “Their confidence will be challenged because next year they’ll be facing teams full of a whole bunch of all-star type players. We’re confident they’ll act accordingly and, of course, we’ll continue to recruit and surround them with better players.”
As for the current season’s goals, Poitras would like to improve on last year’s bronze medals at both provincials and nationals. Still, simply improving on a daily basis will be the team’s ultimate focus.
“We just want to focus on the process, not banners and things like that,” he said. “Each guy has made a commitment to become a better volleyball player this year.
The guys have a vision of what they’d like to accomplish and that’s being competitive in Canada West. We’re working towards that.”
While it’s understandably tempting for Steve Manuel’s women’s crew to look a year into the future, the Heat head coach said there’s still business to take care of in the BCCAA. Despite back-to-back national championships to their credit, he doesn’t expect complacency to be an issue.
“We’re going to try and do it one more time,” he said. “We’ve built up a lot of momentum and we want to continue to built on that. I’ve got a highly motivated veteran group that wants to go out with a bang. We also have six new bodies who are all envious of those rings and they want a championship, too.”
The Heat men’s and women’s basketball team will also join the Canada West Conference in 2011. UBCO hoops teams will open their BCCAA regular seasons Nov. 5 at Capilano.