By Warren Henderson - Kelowna Capital News
Published: February 15, 2012 11:00 AM
Updated: February 15, 2012 11:30 AM
Making the Canada West playoffs in their inaugural season was no small feat for the UBC Okanagan men's volleyball squad.
The Heat's next formidable challenge is to try and take down the No. 2-ranked team in the country on their own court.
Beginning Thursday night, UBCO will be in Winnipeg to battle the Manitoba Bisons in the best-of-three Canada West conference quarterfinal.
The second best-of-five match will go Friday, with a third, if needed, set for Saturday night.
At stake is a trip to Trinity Western next weekend for the Canada West championship and, more importantly, a berth at the CIS finals March 2 to 4 at Queen's University.
The Heat (8-12) and Bisons (18-2) met twice in November with Manitoba sweeping to victory in both matches.
And while his Heat are the clear underdogs, head coach Greg Poitras said the UBCO men head into Winnipeg with a quiet confidence.
"We left that weekend thinking that if we could just play a little higher level of volleyball, we'd be right there with them," Poitras said. "We lost 3-0 and 3-0, but we had so many chances, it was just five or 10-minute spans in each set that we needed to be better.
"We're hungry to go back, we're a better team than we were, but so are they," Poitras added, "they've gotten better, too. We're up for a quite a challenge but we're a more confident team than the first time we played them."
Overcoming obstacles isn't a new concept to the Heat who, during one stretch this season, lost 11 straight matches and looked to be down and out of playoff contention.
But with eight wins in their last nine matches—including two must-win sweeps over Thompson Rivers on the final weekend—the Heat didn't at all resemble an inexperienced, first-year program.
"We looked at our schedule, the rankings and the standings and we knew we could win and maybe get a playoff spot," Poitras said. "We also knew we could end up in a bit of a drought, which we did, but we couldn't let it faze us. We managed our ups and downs pretty well, battled through some injuries, and the guys won the matches they had to.
They've battled all season, so it's quite an accomplishment to have made the playoffs. Now we want to take another step."
Setter Preston Tucker is one of three fifth-year players who will graduate from the Heat program at season's end.
Tucker expects his fellow grads and the rest of his UBCO teammates to leave it all on the court this weekend.
"All season we were underdogs, we weren't expected to make the playoffs, so really we have nothing to lose…and that can be scary for other teams," said Tucker, who graduates with Mark Broome and Spencer Brown.
"We're pretty excited to play Manitoba, we know we match up pretty well. They have a solid lineup, a few key guys. but if we can take a couple of them off their games, it gives us a real chance."
All Heat vs Manitoba matches will be streamed live on CanadaWest.tv.
UBC Okanagan Men’s Volleyball - 2012 Playoff Schedule
Thursday, February 16 - Volleyball - UBC Okanagan versus No. 2 Manitoba Bisons (Men 5 p.m. PST, 7 p.m. CT) at Investors Group Athletic Centre, Winnipeg, MB [Map] [Live Video] Friday, February 17 –Volleyball - UBC Okanagan versus No. 2 Manitoba Bisons (Men 5 p.m. PST, 7 p.m. CT) at Investors Group Athletic Centre, Winnipeg, MB [Map] [Live Video] *Saturday, February 18 –Volleyball - UBC Okanagan versus No. 2 Manitoba Bisons (Men 5 p.m. PST, 7 p.m. CT) at Investors Group Athletic Centre, Winnipeg, MB[Map] [Live Video]
* if necessary