The University of Manitoba women’s volleyball team is off to the national championships in Regina, SK after earning silver at the Canada West Women’s Volleyball Final Four this past weekend in Vancouver.
Reading week synced up nicely with the Bisons’ training schedule, as players could focus on their goal of reaching the podium out West and securing a spot to challenge for the CIS national title. Manitoba was the only team representing the prairies, as UBC, Trinity Western, and UBC Okanagan rounded out the top four teams in the conference.
The Bisons came into the weekend knowing they only needed one win to clinch their berth, and they did so with a dominating straight-sets victory over the Trinity Western Spartans 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-23). Taylor Pischke and Rachel Cockrell led the Bison attack with 12 and 11 kills respectively, while Brittany Habing had a game-high 35 assists.
Bison head coach Ken Bentley was impressed with his team’s performance in the win, which guaranteed Manitoba a berth at nationals and set up a showdown with the top-ranked team in the nation, the UBC Thunderbirds.
“We need more of the same,” Bentley told GoBisons.ca when asked what it would take to topple the T-Birds.
“We can’t worry about their side too much. Our side needs to be what it was tonight and more for us to be successful. We will take on the challenge. Obviously, they are the favourite, but we will do what we can to make the match interesting.”
UBC proved to be too much for Manitoba. UBC held Pischke and Cockrell to a combined 13 kills, the same number as UBC’s Lisa Barclay, who was centre stage all night for the T-Birds and later named the 2013-14 Canada West MVP.
Despite settling for silver, the Bisons achieved their ultimate goal of qualifying for nationals, where they have officially been seeded in second, just behind UBC. They play their first match Friday, Feb. 28 against the seventh-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA). This is the first time the Bisons have qualified for the CIS Women’s Volleyball Championships since the 2009-10 season, in which they lost to UBC 3-1 in the gold medal match.
Manitoba played Ottawa in a pre-season friendly, which Ottawa won 3-2. Coach Bentley described the match as ‘more challenging’ as the Bisons were without Piskche, Caleigh Dobie, and Erika Sandor.
So far, the Bisons have achieved two of the three goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season: to host a playoff series, and then to qualify for the national championships
“Our final goal was to win [a national championship]. We’re certainly capable of it, it’s not going to be easy,” said Bentley.
“That’s what we trained for. That’s what we put all this time in and lifted all those weights, it’s for this moment. I think we’re all really excited to go and challenge ourselves to play our best volleyball.”
The Bisons may have some support joining them on the road for their championship run; the notorious Big Horns posted the following via Twitter early Sunday afternoon: “Hotel booked. See you in Regina.”