Sports

Oxland, Festival, and Given Leading HEAT to Fifth Straight Playoffs

March 16th, 2017

Photo by GreyStoke Photography

Photo by GreyStoke Photography

The UBC Okanagan Heat women’s volleyball team will be making an exceptional fifth straight Canada West playoff appearance this season. They finished with a regular season record of 15-9, good enough for fifth in the standings.

Their opponents in the Canada West Quarter Final will be the University of Calgary Dinos, who finished fourth with a record of 18-6. Against the Dinos this season the Heat were 1-1 in a weekend split. In the final U Sports Top-10 of the season, the Heat were set at #9 and the Dinos were placed #5.

Closing out their conference regular season on a high note, the Heat beat the MacEwan Griffins 3-0 in UBCO’s annual Seniors Night match. Emily Oxland, Kaitlynn Given, and Megan Festival, the three graduating players honoured in the ceremony after the match, all had outstanding individual performances in their final night on home court.

Each of the three departing standards of the Heat program finished with a match-high on Saturday night. Given led the match with 13 kills, Festival led it with three service aces, and Oxland’s 36 assists were the best on the night.

After the match and the ceremony, all three sat down to talk about the season and their consistent returns to the playoffs.

“Every year has been such a fight to make the Final Four and those playoffs, so every year I’m still really grateful to make it this far,” said Festival about her fifth straight trip to the postseason. About the ceremony and it’s signaling of the end of her Heat career, the successful outside hitter added that it was the “last time I get to play in front of a home crowd and our own fans, but our season’s not done. I definitely think our team has a lot left in store, so I’m still excited.”

“I didn’t really feel like it was Seniors Night, just because we’re going into playoffs so it didn’t really hit me,” said Oxland when asked about the sense of finality that a Seniors Night can have. Seconding Festival’s enthusiasm, Ox added, “I’m excited to see where we’ll go in the next few weeks.”

Kaitlynn Given evidently shared her teammates sentiments about the night, saying of the team’s season continuing after the ceremony, “Yeah, for me personally it just took a lot of pressure off of tonight, knowing that it’s not my last game. I will continue to play with this team. It definitely took away some of the pressures of tonight so I could really just enjoy it.”

Given, Oxland, and Festival all joined the Heat the same season that the program moved up to the CIS (now U Sports) level. They have each had an invaluable role in growing the program and building a team whose success puts them in league with some of the longest-standing programs in the country.

Oxland made an immediate impact by setting a conference record with 46 service aces, and she became the only Heat player to be named to the CIS All-Rookie. She was also named the Heat’s MVP and was a Canada West All-Star.

Festival was the Heat’s Rookie of the Year in her first season, in 2012/13, and since then she has set Heat records and placed herself near the top in a number of Canada West categories. She has amassed the second-most service aces in conference history, and in her five seasons played over 400 sets with the Heat. Asked how the program has changed through all of that, she said, “I think it’s changed a lot, especially in the confidence, and Steve’s ability to recruit. We now have a reputation as a school that can compete with big schools such as UBC and U of A. All those big schools that have such a history, we’re now counted as one of them.”

Kaitlynn Given echoed that sentiment, saying “we’ve made huge strides in the CIS league . . . and become one of those respected names in the league and that’s huge for me and the team.”

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