KAMLOOPS — The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack go into this weekend’s Canada West women’s volleyball quarter final as underdogs. Their opponents are the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds are one of the most storied franchises in Canadian University sport the past few years.
They might be considered to be the underdogs, but you wouldn’t know it. While the WolfPack respect the history of UBC and their roster, don’t think for one moment that the ‘Pack are going to roll over easily when the two meet in the best of three series which opens Friday in Vancouver.
“This will be exciting,” said WolfPack head coach Chad Grimm, who is a UBC alum. “The girls are ready and looking forward to it.”
As the ‘Pack enter their second straight post season run, the coach has noticed a change among his veterans. “They have a different sense this year compared to last year (a 2-0 loss at Trinity Western). I think last year we were just happy to make the playoffs and we were kind of satisfied. This year, the girls want and expect more.”
Grimm says the experience his squad garnered in 2016 has given them added confidence.” Last year was the first time they had been to the playoffs. This year, it is a little bit of a different group. I think expectations since the start of the year have been greater. There are a lot of different factors. But I think just getting into it (the playoffs) showed them that they can be there and compete. I thought we battled Trinity pretty well last year. I think this year we are a little more comfortable with the playoffs and the whole idea of being in the post season.”
Starting on the road won’t be such a big deal for Grimm and company. They spent most of the second half of the regular campaign including their last three matches away from the Warner Rentals Court.
“ We had 9 out of 14 on the road in the second half. It’s been a lot. We were at UBCO, then Sask and now UBC. Hope that trend will continue if we want to keep going. Our girls are comfortable about playing on the road. It doesn’t change anything in the sense that it makes it easier about scheduling. The girls are all together. There is no class that they are jumping back and forth between. I think in some sense it is a little bit easier to focus on the road. There isn’t that many outside distractions—like friends and family. If you aren’t practicing you are at the hotel and 100 per cent of your focus can be on the task at hand.”
The two teams met in February but the matches were in Kamloops. TRU won the first night 3-0. UBC took the second 3-0. As far as the War Memorial gym is concerned, there isn’t much difference between the two facilities. “It is pretty big as well,” Grimm states. “It is not as open as the TCC but it’s a good venue. The fans should be out—they are hosting men’s volleyball as well. It should be an exciting atmosphere. Those are the games you want to be in. It will be a good level of volleyball. It will be an exciting time for sure.“
UBC enters the post season winners of their last six outings. TRU dropped both ends of their weekend set in Saskatchewan. Grimm believes the Thunderbirds are a different team that the one that was in Kamloops in mid-February
“It’s a good matchup. Their start starting left side, a good ball control player is back after being on an exchange in the first half of the year—Juliana Kaufmanis—so they are stronger than when we saw them last. Laura McTaggart was also out injured. They swept Alberta last week. I think they are ranked second in the country right now. It will be tough but I think we are tough too. They have Danielle Brisebois, one of the top outside hitters. We have Iullia (Pakhomenko-two time Canada West All Star, 5th year, Donetsk, Ukraine). It is going to be a battle. I think if we can control the things that are within our power and do a good job I think it will be a good series.”
Pakhomenko had the most kills per set (4.65) and kills (381) in the Canada West this year. She was also fourth in hitting percentage (.281).
Brisebois was fifth in kills per set (3.86). Teammate Maggie Li was third in blocks per set (1.08) and fourth in service aces per set (0.53).
TRU rookie setter Abby Spratt (Calgary, AB) was third in assists per set (9.18) while Kendra Finch (2nd year, libero, North Vancouver, BC) finished fifth in digs per set (3.28).
Grimm looks at his roster and feels none of them should be intimidated that it’s the playoffs. “Even the first year girls. They are no longer first year because the playoffs is another season. Our girls are getting some bonus time here. Their experiences in their first season should help them focus and do their jobs. If we get away from doing our jobs and chasing things on the court we get into problems. I think we need to be disciplined in what we are trying to do. If we do that and are consistent we will pose a good challenge for UBC.”
The matches are set for 6 p.m. on Friday (Mar. 3), 5 p.m. Saturday (Mar 4) and 2 p.m. on Sunday (Mar. 5) if necessary. They will be shown on a ‘pay per view’ basis on www.Canadawesttv.com.
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