Bobcats setter Kellie Baker makes a play in practice Thursday afternoon at BU. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Fifth-year middle Lexi Loewen looks to pass the ball in practice on Thursday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Kellie Baker and the Brandon University Bobcats women’s volleyball team hope to ensure their fifth-year celebration this weekend isn’t a farewell party.
The graduating BU volleyball players will be honoured Saturday night at the Healthy Living Centre — marking the last regular-season home matches for the Bobcat volleyball teams — but with wins against the Trinity Western University Spartans tonight and tomorrow, the women’s squad will be guaranteed home court for the first round of the Canada West conference playoffs.
"That’s for sure weighing on the back of our minds here," said BU’s Kellie Baker, a fifth-year setter from Brandon. "We want that, obviously, so we’re going to do all we can to get that."
The Bobcats, ranked second in the CIS, and the fourth-ranked Spartans share second place in Canada West at 14-4. While BU will still have a chance to lock up home court when the regular season concludes next week, regardless of what happens against Trinity Western, this weekend’s matches could be pivotal in the battle for second place and a better playoff seed, plus a chance to test playoff-readiness.
"We talked about it (Wednesday) after practice as a group, just saying that this is preparation, not only mental prep but also this is the type of team we’re going to see in the playoff rounds," Baker said.
Both teams are at the top of their game right now, with Trinity Western having won nine straight matches, while BU’s only loss since Christmas came in a split with the top-ranked UBC Thunderbirds. Bobcats head coach Lee Carter said the Spartans boast a dominant middle in national team member Alicia Perrin, and BU will have to be wary of her, but added that the game plan could shift during the matches.
"It’s more of a mental game now," Carter said. "Our skill is what it’s going to be, and we just want to maintain that and then learn to problem-solve, because that’s what playoffs are about, being able to make adjustments in the middle of the match for the adjustments that (opponents) make. As a group, being able to problem-solve, our team’s been really good at that this year, and hopefully we can become even better."
While the women’s team has its eyes firmly fixed on hosting a playoff series, the BU men’s volleyball squad is scrambling just to make the post-season. Despite being ranked ninth in the country, the Bobcats are in a three-way tie for the final playoff berth with the Mount Royal Cougars and Winnipeg Wesmen at 8-10, with the top-ranked team in the country coming in.
The Spartans have lost only once in 18 matches this season and are a formidable opponent, but Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson said he wants his players to focus on continuing to refine their own game this weekend. With several players who have the experience of beating Trinity Western for the conference title last season before finishing third at nationals, Wilson said the Bobcats believe they can win big matches down the stretch and in the playoffs.
"I think if we were a young team, we would have probably hit the panic button by now, just knowing the situation we’re in," said Wilson, whose team is 8-1 at home this season, but 0-9 away from the HLC. "But everybody on our team’s pretty loose so far, still confident and feeling like we can find a way to get the job done, and that’s definitely how we want to look at these games ahead of us."
FLOATERS: Tonight’s women’s match starts at 6 o’clock, with the men following at 7:45. Tomorrow’s matches will start at 5 and 6:45 p.m. … Baker and middle Lexi Loewen will be the fifth-year Bobcats honoured after the women’s match tomorrow, with graduating middle Dan Boutwell to be recognized prior to the men’s match … The BU basketball teams, both 5-11, are in British Columbia to face Trinity Western tonight in Langley and the University of Fraser Valley Cascades tomorrow in Abbotsford … The Bobcats will hold rain-check nights tonight and next Friday, when the basketball teams host the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Holders of unused tickets for either sport can trade them in at the customer service desk for either game.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 31, 2014