It’s been a long time coming, extended even longer by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the University of the Fraser Vally Cascades volleyball program finally makes its first foray into Canada West action on Friday (Nov. 5).
Both teams travel to Kelowna to take on the UBC-O Heat and it ends a journey that initially began back in May of 2019 when the men’s and women’s teams were approved to join Canada West.
That news ended a run of 22 volleyball seasons in the Pacwest (formerly known as the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association) that included competing from 1983 to 1985 and 2004 to 2020.
“I feel slightly overwhelmed with the honour to be able to be the coach that leads this program into a ground-breaking weekend,” women’s head coach Janelle Rozema stated. “I want to acknowledge all the coaches and players who came before us – people who have set the foundation to catapult us to this level with solid competency to be able to compete. It’s not only because of our preseason load that we feel confident, but because of the people who came before us and shaped the legacy of what it means to be a Cascades women’s volleyball player.”
The women finished the preseason with a record of 4-3 and Rozema said those results were encouraging.
“I feel like there’s still going to be a level of newness, just being in an official Canada West match,” Rozema said. “But after our preseason, we feel a lot more comfortable with this level of play before getting to a match that has playoff implications. One of my coaching philosophies is that confidence comes from experience, and we got a lot of great experience against teams in Canada West, and showed that we can play with them and beat some of them as well.”
Leading the way for the Cascades will be fourth-year outside hitters Amanda Matsui and Sadie Wilson. Matsui, a left side from Port Coquitlam, was a three-time conference all-star during the Cascades Pacwest years. Wilson, a transfer from Mount Royal University who hails from Vancouver, will start at right side.
Third-years Grace Warkentin – a Douglas College transfer – and returnee Kristen McBride will also contribute at the outside hitter spots.
The Cascades will rely on a pair of rookies at the setter spot – Cailin Bitter out of Abbotsford’s Mennonite Educational Institute, and Edmonton product Kinna Fisher. Bitter, at 5’11”, brings prototypical size to the position and will be the opening-night starter, while Fisher, also figures to see extensive playing time.
In the middle, rookies Mo Likness, Alicja Hardy-Francis and Zoe Arca will be key contributors.
Third-year Stephanie Demeules and rookie Emily Matsui – Amanda’s younger sister – will handle the bulk of the libero duties.
The UFV women’s squad enters the season ranked 13th in the coaches preseason poll.
It’s a brand new look for the men’s team as they enter the CW era.
Head coach Nathan Bennett’s roster features just three holdovers – setter Graham Walkey and outside hitters Caleb Kastelein and Justin Peleshytyk – from 2019-20, and 14 newcomers so the challenge in the early going will be forming on-court chemistry as a group.
“What I’m looking for from a match-to-match basis is seeing improvement on our side of the floor,” Bennett said. “If I see improvement with the level of athlete we have on our side, results will come. COVID slowed our growth due to the fact we brought in so many new athletes last season, and we’ve had to get creative to find ways to come together as a team. I feel that we will see more camaraderie as we go through a Canada West season and battle on the floor together.”
Co-captaining the 2021-22 edition of the Cascades are their setters – Walkey and Langley’s Jonas Van Huizen.
“Jonas leads with his play on the court and his unbridled will to win, and we look forward to some major growth in the important role of our starting setter,” Bennett said.
On the receiving end of many of Van Huizen’s sets will be Nimo Benne, a sophomore transfer from Thompson Rivers University. He was the conference’s rookie of the year in 2019-20, and finished fourth in Canada West in kills with 265
Kastelein, a Pacwest all-rookie teamer in 2019-20, joins Benne as the Cascades’ starting left sides, and Ryan Adams, another TRU transfer, will start on the right and brings great size (6’9”) and experience to the squad. Eduardo Ferreira and Bailey Burdick also have the potential to contribute off the bench at the outside hitter spots.
In the middle, Noah Bouius and Tyson Ardell have grabbed the starting spots. Bouius is a 6’9” fourth-year athlete who transferred from Columbia Bible College, and Ardell is a 6’7” rookie out of MEI.
Another transfer from the collegiate ranks, third-year Reece Wilson (College of the Rockies), will start at libero, with rookie Josh Gagnon pushing for playing time off the bench.
Bennett is looking forward to watching his Cascades, ranked No. 11 in the Canada West coaches’ poll, take their first steps into conference play this weekend.
“Having a historic weekend like this only happens once, and we have to ensure that we appreciate the moment but also be in the moment when it comes to the match,” Bennett said. “There will be a lot of eyes on our program, and for us to be successful, we need to block that out and focus on the job at hand.
“We are super-appreciative for the opportunity to be in Canada West, and we look forward to proving that we belong.”
The men’s and women’s teams host their home opener on Friday, Nov. 26 vs. Thompson Rivers.