Abbotsford – The University of the Fraser Valley volleyball teams embark on the 2018-19 PACWEST campaign this weekend, as they welcome the Vancouver Island University Mariners to the Envision Financial Athletic Centre.
The Cascades and Mariners clash on Friday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) and Saturday (women 1 p.m., men 3 p.m.) in the regular-season openers for both programs.
Women’s Volleyball: Cascades aim to build on last season’s bronze medal
The Cascades women’s team can look back at last season in a couple different ways, depending on whether they’re in a particularly glass-half-full or glass-half-empty mood.
On one hand, head coach Mike Gilray’s squad can take pride in the fact that they finished third in the PACWEST regular season (13-11), and secured the program’s first conference medal (a bronze) since 2013, when they swept the PACWEST conference and CCAA national titles.
Then again, it stings to have fallen one win short of a trip to the national championships for the first time since 2013.
So to summarize, it’s clear that the Cascades are a program on the rise, but there’s still work to be done.
“The girls worked extremely hard last season, but it definitely wasn’t the colour of medal we wanted,” noted Gilray, who is heading into his fourth year at the helm of the Cascades. “We were one win away from getting to the national championship . . . and we’ve got to be prepared to knock one of the big dogs off the podium. If we want to surpass VIU and Douglas, we have to get better as a team as the year goes on.”
As Gilray surveys his roster, he sees depth at every position, starting on the left side where the Cascades return a pair of 2017-18 PACWEST all-stars in Kim Bauder (second team) and Amanda Matsui (first team). Fifth-year captain Bauder and sophomore Matsui are a dynamic and versatile duo – they were among three players in the league last season to finish in the top 10 in total offence, kills, aces, and digs. Fourth-year Chelsea Kidd will also be a strong contributor on the left, and rookie Kristen McBride has a lot of potential.
In the middle, the Cascades graduated longtime standout Monique Huber, but third-year Hanna Hieltjes and fourth-year Keira Fisher are ready to step up as veteran leaders. 6’3” sophomore Lauren Poirier is also primed to contribute, and rookie Alysha Cooper brings dynamic athleticism to the position.
On the right side, sophomore Lexi Edwards and rookie Kate Widman are battling for playing time. Third-year Kara Williams spent a lot of time on the right last season, but she’s moving over to setter this fall, where she’s being pushed by rookie Zoe Flowers.
At the libero spot, last season’s starter Cassidy King is back, with sophomore Karissa Marazzi and rookie Stephanie Demeules pushing for playing time both at libero and as defensive specialists.
“Our depth as a whole is so great,” Gilray enthused. “We have depth at all positions right now, and it leads to two really competitive sides of the court when we’re doing game-play in practice. When you have that level of competitiveness across the gym, there’s no time off. Everyone wants to be on the floor, and it makes the starters better and the role players better.”
Men’s Volleyball: Youthful Cascades seeking to establish consistency
Coming off a .500 season (12-12 in PACWEST play), the Cascades men’s volleyball program will be a relatively youthful group, but they’ve got some quality veterans in the mix to provide leadership.
“It’s a little bit of a youth movement this year, for how many young guys we have who are pushing for court time,” said fifth-year UFV bench boss Kyle Donen. “In the long run, it’s going to really help us.
“It doesn’t seem to matter what combinations I put together in practice – the competition is close, it’s never a blowout. Both sides are finding ways to be successful and battle together, which is really good.”
Last year’s edition of the Cascades leaned heavily on left side Nick Bruce, who earned PACWEST first team all-star honours. He’s since graduated, leaving an opportunity for others to step up.
Fourth-year left side Ben Friesen will take a leading role – the Cascades’ team captain was a second-team conference all-star in 2016-17, and he finished ninth in the PACWEST in kills (2.66/set) and 11th in total offence (3.00 points/set) last season. A pair of sophomores – Justin Peleshytyk and Landon Uy – are battling for the other left side starting job, and rookie Shubdeep Wander is also in the mix at both outside hitter positions.
Third-year Josh Fefchak is the Cascades’ most experienced player in the middle following Dayton Pagliericci’s graduation, and he’s coming off a season which saw him finish ninth in the league in blocks (0.52/set). 6’10” sophomore Ian Jagersma is looming large, literally and figuratively, in the battle for playing time, and first-years Dylan Neudorf, Jackson Obst and Andy Barrero are also showing great potential to contribute.
On the right side, fourth-year Matt Whittall and third-year Graeme Hughes bring their own unique strengths that can be deployed depending on the match-up. Whittall is a dynamic server and a consistent offensive presence, while Hughes elevates the Cascades’ blocking game.
Setter Adam Frederickson brings skill and experience as the lone fifth-year on the UFV roster. The setting depth chart also includes rookie Bobby Blaskovits, who is coming off an injury redshirt season at Douglas College and played for Team B.C. during his youth volleyball career.
The Cascades have an experienced duo at the libero spot in fourth-year Evan Bell-Foley and third-year Carter Bronson. Bell-Foley earned the lion’s share of the starts last season, and had nine games with double-digit digs.
“The goal for us is to learn how to take our game to the next level,” Donen summarized. “For the last four years, we’ve had some really good regular seasons. It’s about trying to learn what we need to do to be successful in the playoffs. That starts with each and every weekend.
“We want to find a level of energy that’s going to propel us from game to game. Consistency with that is a big thing for us – trying to find some emotional consistency. If we have that in our game, it’ll make a big difference.”