KELOWNA, B.C. - Returning to the court for the first time since their run to the Canada West playoffs last season, the Heat women’s volleyball team hosted a pair of fellow Canada West opponents for a few friendly matches over the weekend, including a set of full exhibition games Saturday.
The Trinity Western University Spartans and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies made the trip to Kelowna for the mini-tourney, which saw the Heat wind up 1-1 for the day, falling to the Spartans in the afternoon but then coming out strong to win against the Huskies in the evening.
The day allowed the coaching staff, headed by thirteen-year head coach and defending Canada West and CIS Coach of the Year Steve Manuel, to tinker and experiment with several different lineups and combinations on the court. Their mad science looked to mostly pay off as the team did exceptionally well in both of its outings.
“It’s exhibition and we’re experimenting with lineups that work well together,” said Manuel at the end of the day, “what different people do in different situations, and what kind of pressure we can put on certain people, who responds to what kinds of situations.”
It was time for his impressive rookie class to shine, and they were given ample opportunity. “They need to get their feet wet,” Manuel said of his first-years. “It’s too much to ask of them not to play in exhibition and expect them to perform come league time. I’m sure [they] have been nervous since about Wednesday because they knew they were going to get some playing time. We know that all of our first years are all capable of being very good Canada west players. We need to see how close they are to being that player at this point.”
But it is not just about the rookies, Manuel pointed out. It is just as much about some of the second and third-year players as well. “If you don’t give them an opportunity … if we decide before we start exhibition who our six starters are going to be and we put them out there now then they will play the best probably for the better part of the year. But if we give everybody an opportunity right now then maybe we’ll get surprised, and maybe we’ll see something we didn’t see beforehand.”
Trinity Western Spartans - L, 3-1 (21-25, 18-25, 26-24, 20-25)
Given and Beamish give it her all
The Heat kicked off their exhibition Saturday against the No. 2 ranked Trinity Western Spartans, where they showed that they were more than capable of hanging with the best. Both coaching staffs liberally applied different lineups throughout the match to try different combinations, which would still result in an interesting match.
A tight first set would slip away from the Heat 21-25, but the Heat would find rhythm from the second onwards and, if not for some timely runs by the Spartans, would likely have pushed the match to at least a fourth and maybe fifth set.
“I thought we played quite well for most of the match,” Manuel said after the game. “I thought we controlled the second, and third and fourth set completely except for a few rotations. [We] just gave up a couple of runs and that cost us the set.”
With former Heat standout and outside hitter Alex Basso having graduated, a void was created on the offense, but that void looks already to be filling rapidly by second-year hitter Kaitlynn Given (Kelowna, BC) and third-year Brianna Beamish (Surrey, BC). Given and Beamish each recorded 11 kills versus the Spartans.“I thought that Kaitlynn Given and Breanna Beamish worked extremely well together on the outside,” Manuel said of the tandem. “They carried the offensive load.”
Manuel opted to start fifth-year middle Kendra Wayling (Castelgar, BC) at libero as she continues to nurse a thumb injury. “We’ve got a couple of small injuries, a thumb, a wrist type of thing,” said the coach, elaborating on the injury situation of the team. “We’re just not going to chance it with those players in pre-season with blocking and playing at the net. We’re just playing [Kendra] out of position so that she gets a few contacts and a few reps with the team without furthering her injury.”
Saskatchewan Huskies – W, 3-1 (25-20, 25-18, 17-25, 25-17)
DeJong dishes it out to finish off Huskies
Third-year outside hitter Kate DeJong (Calgary, AB) stepped to the service line late in the fourth set and would be the last Heat server as she dished up a couple aces and nearly served the game out. A Huskies’ error would then seal the fourth set and match victory for the Heat down the stretch.
Rookie Erin Drew (Kelowna, BC) was given ample playing time this time around, and did not squander it as she put up six kills and five blocks in the effort. Second-year hitter Megan Festival (Calgary, AB) led the offensive charge for the heat, tallying the team’s best kill total of the day at 12.
Once again, Heat coach Steve Manuel and his staff played around with different lineups. While he had former Canada West All-Star Emily Oxland (1st year, North Vancouver, BC) set the match versus the Spartans, third-year Chandler Proch (Kelowna, BC) was started against the Huskies. Proch is returning from a season of red shirting as she was recovering from injury, but was back in form tonight, forming a formidable blocking duo alongside middle Katy Klomps (3rd year, Surrey, BC) that continually stumped the Huskies.
“Emily set the first match, and tonight we gave the ball to Chandler, and I thought she did a great job,” Manuel said. “To me, we have a really great problem on our hands. We’ve got two setters who are really going to battle for a starting spot.”
Second-year setter Alison Gill (Calgary, AB) also saw considerable floor time versus the Huskies, and Steve is happy to know that she is a capable backup already who can also play elsewhere.
The women will scrimmage at home next weekend for more exhibition action, this time with the UFV Cascades. Then they will be at the West Coast Classic October 4-6 (co-hosted by UBC and Trinity Western) in final preparation for the regular season.
Trinity would win the round robin with two wins, while the Huskies went winless on the Saturday in Kelowna. Trinity bested Saskatchewan in three sets Saturday morning, but the teams played a fourth set, to get the most out of the exhibition, with the Huskies grabbing the fourth set. The match would finish 3-1 (25-16, 25-21, 25-22, 22-25) in favour of Trinity Western.