Saturday evening marked the final games in the careers of five standout athletes from UBC Okanagan, as the women's team graduated Jillian Festival, Lenai Schmidt, and Kendra Wayling, and the men graduated Nate Speijer and Davis Proch.
Jillian Festival - Team Captain Jillian Festival joined the Heat for the 2009/2010 season and was crucial in the Heat's BCCAA Provincial Gold medal victory, as well as their CCAA National Championship victory that same year. She was named BCCAA Rookie of the Year that season, and her strong play would continue thereafter. Festival would go on to win BCCAA Provincial Gold again in 2010/2011, and in 2011/2012 Festival was named CIS Academic All-Canadian in the Heat's inaugural CIS season.
"Coming in, I wasn't expecting this journey," replied Festival following Saturday night's game when asked if the past five years were everything she expected when she decided to join the Heat. "It has been such an amazing time these past five years. My teammates became my family, and I wouldn't trade this experience for anything."
In school history, Jillian will finish her career 10th in kills with 354, 6th in serve percentage at .932, 9th in digs with 392, and 5th in total blocks with 116.
Kendra Wayling - Kendra joined the program for the 2010 season from North Idaho College and had an immediate impact, helping the Heat win their second BCCAA Provincial Gold in as many years. She was also the recipient of the CCAA National Scholar award that season. The following season, Wayling was crucial in helping UBC Okanagan bridge the gap into the CIS, and her academic accolades continued to grow as she was named CIS Academic All-Canadian. She was also the recipient of the UBC Okanagan Heat Scholar-Athelete award during that 2011/2012 season, in addition to being named UBC Okanagan Female Student Athlete of the Year.
"I didn’t think my time here would be this intense and exciting," said Wayling after Saturday's game. "I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity to actually play CIS volleyball and its been such a great and amazing time to be a part of this team and to see how far we’ve come in only three seasons."
Kendra’s contributions to the Heat over her three years at UBC Okanagan aren’t best expressed in stats; she was the player that her teammates and coaches relied on to make the big play at the right time to carry the team to victory. She will graduate as one of the most selfless athletes to don the Heat uniform.
Lenai Schmidt - Hailing from Vernon, Lenai joined the Heat in 2009 fresh off of a AAA Provincial Championship with her Kalamalka team. The winning would continue for Lenai, as the rookie took the starting libero role and ran with it, helping the Heat win BCCAA Provincial Gold and the CCAA National Championship crown in her first season. She would help the Heat win BCCAA Provincial Gold the following season in 2010/2011, and like Wayling and Festival, was crucial in helping the Heat bridge the gap to the CIS the following season.
When asked to describe how she was feeling following the last home game of her career, Lenai replied: "I just remember being in my first year and thinking that five years was so far in the future, and here we are. It's so surreal standing here now."
Lenai has been a stalwart in the Heat’s back-line for five years, and in school history, she will finish fourth all-time in digs per set with 2.76 and second all-time with 796 total digs. She is also fifth in the Canada West record book with 24 total digs in a single playoff match (Feb 15, 2013 versus Mount Royal).
Davis Proch - Davis joined the Heat in 2012 after playing three seasons in the BCCAA with the Camosun Chargers. The Kelowna-native jumped at the opportunity to join his home-town team, and in his first season with the Heat, he played in 13 of 22 Canada West matches, logging 110 assists. Proch will finish his UBC Okanagan career third in school history with 207 total assists, and second with 3.29 assists per set ratio.
"I grew up watching UBC Okanagan, and I figured that one day I would play here," said Proch following the Heat's match with Regina. "When the opportunity came to join the Heat and play in the CIS came, I was stoked. It means a lot to come back to Kelowna and play for my home-town team."
Nate Speijer - Where to even begin? Nate joined the Heat in 2008, and during his three-year stint at the collegiate level, he would lead the Heat to BCCAA Provincial Bronze, CCAA National Championship Bronze, BCCAA Provincial Gold, and CCAA National Championship Silver. In 2009/2010, Nate was named BCCAA Player of the Year, in addition to being named CCAA All-Canadian and winning the UBC Okanagan Heat Male Athlete of the Year. In 2011/2012, the Heat made the move to the CIS, and Nate would continue his dominating play, finishing the season 5th in the CIS in kills and 11th in service aces. He was named to the Canada West All-Star team (Second) and was named UBC Okanagan Heat Male Athlete of the Year for the second time. Just before the start of what should have been his final season in 2012, Nate was forced to undergo an emergency appendectomy less than a day before the first game of the season, and he was forced to red-shirt for the remainder. In 2013, he would return, and would capture the Canada West kill crown with 371 total kills in the 2013-2014 season - the fourth best kill total in the history of the conference. He would connect on 30 or more kills in 9 of the 10 weekends he played this season, tallying 29 kills in the only weekend series in which he didn't reach 30.
"I’m just trying to take it all in, it’s surreal to be honest," said Speijer following the final game of his career. "I can still remember stepping on this court for the first time and lacing up the shoes. Just the amount of guys that have come and go through this program and to play with the new wave of Heat players makes me feel really good. I’m excited to see where this team goes, and I hope I taught them something along the way. It’s a promising young group of guys I’m leaving behind."
It won't just be a promising young group of guys Speijer will leave behind, but also a legacy that will surely stand for a very long time. Nate will graduate as the Heat's all-time leader in kills (1250), service aces (125), points-per-set (4.74), and total points (1483.0). Nate also sits second all-time with a kills-per-set average of 3.99, in total digs with 434, and in total blocks with 137.
His 31 kills on November 22nd, 2014 versus Winnipeg ranks first all-time in school history, and tied for seventh in Canada West history. A career points-per-set average of 5.58 is third best all-time in Canada West, while his kills-per-set average of 4.67 is sixth best all-time in Canada West and his 384.5 total points this season will rest as 8th best all-time.
It is safe to say that, undeniably, Speijer will graduate as the most prolific athlete UBC Okanagan has ever seen.
What They Will Miss
All five Heat players were quick to acknowledge the importance of the relationships they've built over their tenures at UBC Okanagan, and that the camaraderie and friendships they've built here will be the toughest to leave behind.
"I’ll miss coming to school everyday knowing your friends are there to support you and that every game you are playing for each other," explained Lenai Schmidt. "I think the feeling of being a family is what I’ll miss the most."
Kendra felt much the same.
"I’ll miss the girls a lot. We’re like a family. It will be sad to leave them and the coaches."
When asked what he will miss most, Nate explained it will be "the family; the amount of brothers I’ve gained through the five years. Just coming to the gym every day and playing with these guys and everything I've learned here."
"I’ll miss the camaraderie and the whole Heat athletics department," added Davis. "Coaches, staff, front desk, everyone. It’s that family feel, you know? I think I’ll miss that the most."