The UBC Thunderbirds women's volleyball team managed to make its mark on the University of Alberta Pandas' otherwise flawless record this season with a UBC victory on the last game of regular season play.
The T-Birds were unable to duplicate that feat as they fell to the Pandas, two-time defending national champions, in the Canada West University Athletic Association's (CWUAA) championship finals last month. UBC did, however, advance with a wild card berth to play for the national title March 6-8.
Last year UBC came away from the CIAU championship with a bronze medal, having entered ranked fifth in the country. This year they go in ranked second in Canada and head coach Doug Reimer is looking for gold.
"By losing to Alberta we've given ourselves a tougher road, probably playing York in the first round and Laval in the second round," said Reimer. "Last year we finished third in the country and the two teams ahead of us were Alberta and Laval, so we're seeing the same teams at the top once again.
"This year we've developed to the point where we legitimately see ourselves in the medals, and we would like to do better than bronze."
Laval, Alberta and UBC face similar changes at the end of this season as each of the three top teams will lose several veteran players. The T-Birds will lose Jeannette Guichon, Tanya Pickerell and Jenny Rauh, effectively leveling the playing field for some of the other less experienced Canadian teams.
The T-Birds, who have had a brilliant season under Reimer and assistant coach Erminia Russo, finished regular season play 16-2, with their only losses to the Pandas. In turn, UBC managed to spoil a Panda sweep leaving the Pandas with a 17-1 record in the regular season.
UBC beat third-place Saskatchewan Huskies on the way to the Canada West finals last month, but couldn't overpower the Pandas who claimed their third consecutive conference title and their fourth title in five years.
Despite its Panda problems, UBC's strength was reflected in the Canada West all-star selections. Joanne Ross and Rauh were named to the Canada West women's all-star team.
UBC was well represented in Canada West awards as well with Doug Reimer named women's Coach of the Year and Rookie-of-the-Year honours in the women's division going to Sarah Maxwell. Guichon was selected as the Canada West nominee for the TSN Award which is awarded at the national championship tournament to the player who exhibits the best combination of athleticism, academics and community service.
Russo, a UBC graduate and former Olympic team member, replaces Reimer who will take on a new job as Canada's national women's team coach.