OTTAWA (CIS) – New CIS women’s volleyball champions will be crowned this weekend in Toronto, where the top eight teams in the country are set to compete in the 2015 national tournament, presented by Canuck Stuff. The UBC Thunderbirds are seeded fifth and will take on the University of Montreal in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Championship website: http://english.cis-sic.ca/championships/wvball/index
The four-day competition runs from Thursday to Sunday at the University of Toronto and all 11 contests will be streamed live on www.CIS-SIC.tv, including the gold-medal final Sunday at 5 p.m.
For the first time in program history, the Trinity Western University Spartans have earned No. 1 status going into the event after winning their first-ever Canada West title. Rounding out the draw are the second-seeded Alberta Pandas (Canada West finalists), No. 3 Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA champs), No. 4 Montreal Carabins (RSEQ champs), No. 5 UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West bronze medallists), No. 6 Dalhousie Tigers (AUS champs), No. 7 Ottawa Gee-Gees (OUA finalists) and No. 8 Laval Rouge et Or (RSEQ finalists).
Thursday’s quarter-finals include UBC vs. Montreal in the 1 p.m. opener, followed by Laval vs. Trinity Western at 3 p.m., Dalhousie vs. host Toronto at 6 p.m., as well as Ottawa vs. Alberta at 8 p.m.
Among the teams that will miss out on the action this week at the U of T are the Manitoba Bisons, who put an end to UBC’s remarkable six-year supremacy last winter but were eliminated in the first round of the Canada West playoffs this season.
UBC, which dropped a 3-0 decision to Manitoba in the 2014 CIS final, holds the all-time record of 10 national banners. Alberta is tied for second place with seven, Dalhousie and Laval have one apiece, while Trinity Western, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa are looking for their first crown.
The top-ranked Spartans didn’t quite look like a championship team at the end of October, when they dropped four straight matches, including 3-1 and 3-0 losses to Alberta, to fall to 3-4 in league play. They regrouped in spectacular fashion however and have since won 20 of 21 duels, including a come-from-behind victory over the Pandas in the Canada West final on their rivals’ home court in Edmonton. Led by fifth-year middle Alicia Perrin and third-year outside hitter Sophie Carpentier, both conference all-stars this season, the Spartans hope to improve on a pair of CIS bronze medals they claimed in 2011 and 2013.
“Winning the Canada West championship has been 15 years in the making and it shows that we’ve been doing the right things and we’re taking steps in the right direction with our athletes, with how we are doing things in the gym and with our work ethic,” said 10-year head coach Ryan Hofer. “It’s nice to see the hard work pay off. But for the girls, this isn’t enough. This is awesome, it’s a great experience and it’s very rewarding, but they want more.”
Alberta and Trinity Western finished the regular season with identical 19-5 records but the Pandas earned first place in the Canada West standings thanks to a 2-0 head-to-head record in league play. Led by outside hitter Meg Casault, the leader among players set to compete at the CIS tournament with 3.72 kills per set this season, the Pandas topped 10 of 13 national rankings over the course of the campaign.
“We are looking forward to the challenge of the CIS championship. It was a grueling season in the tough Canada West conference and the team is honoured to be one of the representatives of the league,” said 23-year bench boss Laurie Eisler, whose program captured six straight CIS banners from 1995 to 2000 and added a seventh title in 2007.
Tournament host Toronto, whose best result at the competition remains a fourth-place finish in 2001, hopes to become only the second OUA school to claim the national title, after three-time champion Western (1976, 1975, 1972). The Blues already rewrote part of their record book earlier this month when they reached No. 1 in the CIS weekly rankings for the first time in program history (Feb. 3 poll).
“We have had the advantage of knowing that we’d be playing the Thursday 6 p.m. quarter-final all season. I think that, coupled with it being on our home court, are very positive factors for us going into this weekend,” said 26-year coach Kristine Drakich, who led her troops to an OUA-best 18-1 mark in conference play. “We have been very purposeful in our training, have found a way to stay focused, and take things one step at a time. The team has been managing themselves very well and are able to adapt very well during competitions. Our plan is to continue to do this throughout the CIS championship.”
Fourth-seeded Montreal had advanced to eight straight CIS tournaments – including a program-best silver medal in 2008 – before missing last year’s event in Regina. The Carabins rebounded this season and reclaimed the RSEQ title with a pair of dominating 3-0 wins over Laval in the best-of-three Quebec final, holding their archrivals to under 20 points in five of six sets in the series.
“We’re heading to the championship with one thing in mind: win three matches,” said 11-year mentor Olivier Trudel, whose team dropped a heartbreaking five-set decision, 20-18 in the fifth frame, against first-round opponent UBC in the 2008 CIS final. “We’ll have to be ready from the get-go, regardless of our opponent, because you can’t win it all if you don’t win your first match. This year’s tournament is wide open. Any team can win, including us.”
After reaching the national final each of the past seven years, including a record-tying six straight titles from 2008 to 2013, UBC posted a 3-4 pre-season record last fall, followed by back-to-back losses to newcomer MacEwan to open the Canada West schedule, and never seemed to find its rhythm en route to a 13-11 mark and fifth place in the conference standings. Led by senior left side Lisa Barclay, last year’s CIS MVP, the T-Birds righted the ship just in time and qualified for the end-of-the-year tourney for the 20th time in 21 campaigns with a four-set win over UBC Okanagan in the Canada West bronze medal game.
“Our team is thrilled to be back at the national championship after a rocky regular season. The Canada West playoffs gave us some opportunities to raise our level of play and I believe that we are now playing some of our best volleyball of the season,” said 18-year head coach Doug Reimer. “Obviously we have tough road ahead, starting with Montreal in the first round, but I think our crew is ready to compete hard and enjoy the experience.”
Dalhousie, the only AUS school to capture the CIS banner back in 1982, has made a comeback on the national scene in recent years and will compete at the tournament for the third consecutive season. The Tigers were also the No. 6 seed a year ago in Regina when they became the first team from the Atlantic conference since 1984 to advance to the semifinals thanks to a 3-1 upset win over Trinity Western.
“We are a younger team overall, but one that has been very resilient and tough to play against in the second half of the season,” said seven-year sideline boss Rick Scott, whose squad is currently riding a 10-game winning streak. “We’ve done an excellent job of focusing on the process of getting better each week and coming together as a team. Our expectation for the CIS championship is to go in and compete hard and play good volleyball. We understand that the competition will be strong, but we are looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to represent Dalhousie University and the AUS conference.”
Led by twins and conference all-stars Myriam and Kelsie English, who will wrap up their outstanding university careers this week, Ottawa was the only OUA team to beat Toronto during the regular season, a 3-2 win on Feb. 7, and once again pushed the Blues to the limit in the OUA title match, this time dropping a five-set decision. Thanks to a first-round win over Sherbrooke two years ago, the Gee-Gees became the first OUA program since Toronto in 2001 to reach the CIS semis.
“We are so fortunate to have one more chance to compete again as a group against the best in the country and see what we can accomplish,” said 23-year coach Lionel Woods following the conference final. “I am extremely confident that our veteran group will be ready by Thursday to go at it all over again.”
Being seeded No. 8 for the national championship is a rarity for perennial contender Laval, which is coming off a bronze-medal performance in 2014 and will compete at the tournament for the 34th time in 37 years. While they will be heavy underdogs on Thursday against top-ranked Trinity Western, the Rouge et Or have history on their side, holding a 3-0 all-time record against the Spartans at the CIS tourney.
“We have won 20 of 29 matches this season, which is very respectable. The Quebec conference is very competitive. As proof, we qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. That kind of competition prepares us well for the national championship,” said third-year head coach Olivier Caron. “The Canada West teams are similar to Montreal physically. We can compete with Montreal, so we know we can compete with teams from the West. We proved it last year with a team that was less physical than this year’s group. We just need to believe in our chances and work, work, work.”
Wednesday, February 25
19:00 CIS Awards Gala (Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel – Forest Hill Ballroom)
Thursday, February 26
13:00 Quarter-final #1: No. 5 UBC vs. No. 4 Montreal (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
15:00 Quarter-final #2: No. 8 Laval vs. No. 1 Trinity Western (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
18:00 Quarter-final #3: No. 6 Dalhousie vs. No. 3 Toronto (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
20:00 Quarter-final #4: No. 7 Ottawa vs. No. 2 Alberta (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
Friday, February 27
11:30 Consolation #1: Loser QF #1 vs. Loser QF #2 (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
13:30 Consolation #2: Loser QF #3 vs. Loser QF #4 (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
Saturday, February 28
14:00 Semifinal #1: Winner QF #1 vs. Winner QF #2 (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
16:00 Semifinal #2: Winner QF #3 vs. Winner QF #4 (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
Sunday, March 1
11:30 5th place (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
14:00 Bronze medal (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
17:00 Championship final (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
All times are EST