Battle for fourth place goes way of the Bisons

Okanagan heat-logo-just-H

by Cary Mellon

February 1, 2014, WINNIPEG, MB (ISN) – The UBC Okanagan Heat were unable to trip up the Bisons Friday night, as Manitoba earned an important straight set 3-0 (26-24, 25-17, 25-21) victory in women’s volleyball from the Investors Group Athletic Centre.

The win sees Manitoba take sole possession of fourth place in the Canada West conference with an improved record of 12-7, while the Heat now sit fifth in the conference with a record of 11-8. Although both teams will likely face each other in the first round of the Canada West playoffs, the fourth seed will earn the right to host – a privilege the Heat would love to have. The Bisons have never won here in Kelowna, and the Heat would love to avoid the almost 2000 kilometer journey back to Winnipeg.

Speaking of which, the effects of the journey to Manitoba were made largely apparent in this match, especially in the passing game for the Heat, as UBC Okanagan struggled with first touch for the majority of the match. Setter Emily Oxland (2nd year, North Vancouver, BC) did all she could to keep her offense running smoothly, but as a team, the Heat had difficulties getting quality passes off over the course of the three sets.

“Travel is always tough, but that’s just a reality every team has to deal with,” relayed Heat head coach Steve Manuel following the game. “There’s no excuses tonight – Manitoba just plain old outplayed us.”

Despite the result, there were many positives to draw from for UBC Okanagan. Katy Klomps (3rd year, Surrey, BC) and Katie Wuttunee (3rd year, North Vancouver, BC) both had very good games offensively with 9 kills apiece, and from the service line, Wuttunee provided a career-high four service aces. Megan Festival (2nd year, Calgary, AB) was effective as well, tallying 11 kills and 11 digs – her best game since a 12 kill 19 dig performance on November 30th versus Calgary.

Manitoba had twin 10-kill performances from Rachel Cockrell (3rd year, Winnipeg, MB) and Taylor Pischke (3rd year, Winnipeg, MB), while Crystal Mulder (3rd year, Winnipeg, MB) had 7 kills and provided the majority of her support on defense with 13 digs. The Bisons were stifling on defense over all three sets, making it difficult for the Heat to find any open court. As a team, Manitoba was able to out-dig UBC Okanagan 43-39.

When asked what he feels his team needs to improve on for tomorrow’s match, Manuel stated: “We played too tight tonight, and it hurt our decision making. We need to play a lot looser tomorrow.”

The Heat will get another chance at the Bisons and fourth place in Canada West tomorrow afternoon, with the first serve scheduled for 3 p.m. PST.

Playoff Outlook – With three games remaining, the Heat’s hopes at hosting the first round of the playoffs are slim, but not out of reach. Likely, the Bisons will win their final two games of the season next weekend over the winless WolfPack, and the Heat should earn two victories as well over the 9-10 Regina Cougars. However, the decision of who will host will then be decided by a ratio of sets won to sets lost, which currently favours Manitoba (43-27 vs. 35-27 for the Heat). This scenario is the one most likely to result in the Heat hosting their second playoff series in two years:

UBC Okanagan Wins Saturday vs. Manitoba (3-0) and Next Weekend vs. Regina (3-0 and 3-0)

Manitoba Loses Saturday vs. UBC Okanagan (3-0) but Wins Next Weekend vs. Thompson Rivers (3-1 and 3-0)

Team Sets Won-Sets Lost Ratio

UBC Okanagan 44-27 1.629

Manitoba 49-31 1.581