In the first time since forever, two Abbotsford teams met in a PACWEST championship women's volleyball game, held Saturday at Cranbrook's College of the Rockies.
The UFV Cascades won the contest but it was the Cinderella team, the Columbia Bible College Bearcats, who surprised many by earning a trip to the dance after knocking off the No. 2 ranked Vancouver Island University Mariners in Friday's semifinal.
After nailbiting back-and-forth action in the first four sets, the Bearcats handed the Mariners their walking papers, taking the fifth set by a score of 15-7. Pandemonium ensued as the 'Cats not only advanced to the PACWEST final, but also punched their ticket to the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) national championship.
"It was an indescribable feeling, knocking out the defending PACWEST and CCAA champions," said Bearcats head coach Duncan Harrison.
"The passion and focus from our ladies was just exceptional. They refused to be intimidated by the older and physically stronger VIU team."
If the Bearcats were the underdog of the tournament, they didn't get the memo.
"We always expect to win," said Harrison of the semifinal matchup. "You must set high goals and have high expectations. The first time something like this happens in a meaningful match, it is overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. We left everything we had on the floor to win that match. Elation is the only word I can think of to describe the mood after that match."
In Saturday's championship game the Cascades won the final 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, and 25-17) over the Bearcats.
"It was a great weekend . . . of great execution under pressure," said UFV head coach Dennis Bokenfohr. "It was a complete team performance with contributions coming throughout the lineup."
In the gold medal match, CBC got off to a good start, at one point leading 18-14 in the first set.
"UFV made a great serving substitution and ran us for eight straight points. It really took the wind out of our sails," said Harrison. "We had a few flashes of positive after that but we could never string a big run of our own together . . . we never really got momentum back. [UFV] played very strong and consistent from that point, which is what you would expect from a veteran, well-coached team."
Both teams will now advance to the CCAA National Championship tournament March 7-9 in Lloydminster, Alta.
This is the first year the CBC women have qualified for a national championship.
"This is a huge step for our program," said Harrison. "I think we have made a statement that we are a legitimate contender at this point. However, to truly be considered an elite program we will need to continue to have similar results for a few years."