A season that began with so much promise and the hope of reaching the national championship ended in devastating fashion for the Brandon University Bobcats women’s volleyball team on Friday night.
The Bobcats, who have been ranked second in Canadian Interuniversity Sport since the middle of January, exited the Canada West conference playoffs in the quarter-finals with a 3-1 (29-31, 25-18, 25-23, 25-19) loss to the unranked University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat at the Healthy Living Centre. Getting swept by the Heat in the best-of-three series hit all the Bobcat players hard, sending them to tears before they reached the locker-room. None was more devastated than fifth-year setter Kellie Baker, who sat behind the BU bench for a few minutes after the match before leaving the gymnasium.
"I’m kind of speechless. It’s over," the Crocus Plains graduate, who finished with 36 assists and eight kills, said while fighting back tears. "We didn’t expect them to come out with as much fight as they did and they proved to be the better team."
The Bobcats looked like the second-ranked team early in the first set and built up a 22-18 advantage, but the Heat came back to score four straight points and tie the set. Brandon survived some long rallies to take the set, but the momentum had shifted.
The Heat changed their serve targets in the second set and the Bobcats became a team searching for its confidence and ball control. Brandon didn’t build a lead larger than two points for the rest of the match and never found the resiliency that the players had shown during the regular season.
"I think it was just the way in which they (the Heat) executed," Bobcats head coach Lee Carter said. "They were on top of things all the way and we were just fighting to get even and fighting to get even and fighting to get even, and eventually our resiliency just wore out.
"It’s an incredible group of athletes that worked their butts off and we didn’t get the results that hard work usually earns."
Shanlee McLennan finished with 10 kills and was involved in five blocks for Brandon, while Meaghan Robertson added nine kills. Lexi Loewen, a fifth-year middle, had six kills and seven blocks in her final match as a Bobcat.
Brianna Beamish led UBCO with 17 kills, with Megan Festival adding 15 and Katy Klomps posting 11.
This was a special season for the Bobcats. For the first time in the program’s nine-year history, the team beat every other school at least once and posted its most wins in a season with 17. However, the Bobcats came up short in the first round of the playoffs for the fifth time — BU has never advanced past the quarter-finals — which left Carter searching for what it takes to win a playoff match.
"I have to sit down and take a long look at what’s going on so we can win a playoff game," he said. "The girls did everything we asked of them. They followed our game plan to a T, and in the end the buck stops with me and I take responsibility."
Meanwhile, the 10th-ranked Bobcat men’s volleyball team is off to the Canada West final four after upsetting the fourth-ranked UBC Thunderbirds 3-2 (20-25, 26-24, 20-25, 25-15, 21-19) late Friday night in Vancouver to sweep their best-of-three quarter-final series.
Sebastien Steigmeier posted a match-high 18 kills for Brandon, while Sam Tuivai added 15. Frank Jones had six stuff blocks and three block assists, with Dan Boutwell, Brandon’s other middle, supplying 11 kills and two aces.
Ben Chow led the Thunderbirds with 17 kills while, Alex Russell had 16.
The Canada West final four will be hosted next weekend by the second-ranked Trinity Wester Spartans (20-2) in Langley, B.C.