Volleyball team nabs CIAU silver

by Don Wells
Thunderbird Athletics

If you asked TSN Award winner Jeanette Guichon if she would trade her $3000 bursary for a CIAU gold medal, the answer would probably be yes. The fourth-year Family and Nutritional Sciences student was honoured with the award, recognizing the best combination of athleticism, academics and community service, March 5 at Edmonton's Hotel MacDonald on the eve of the Canadian Inter-university Athletic Union (CIAU) Women's Volleyball Championships.

Teammate Jenny Rauh, a fifth-year Education student, was named a First Team All Canadian at the same soiree. If given the choice, she too would have preferred a CIAU Championship in her final match as a UBC Thunderbird.

Ranked number two in the CIAU Top Ten going into the national final tournament behind the two-time defending champion Alberta Pandas, the T-Birds steamrolled McGill and Laval to qualify for the championship match against a familiar foe. Host Alberta made short work of opponents Manitoba and Saint Mary's, setting the stage for the finale that TSN producers were hoping for -- Canada West conference rivals UBC and Alberta, quite simply the two best teams in the country.

Playing before a national television audience and a sold-out record crowd of 2,561, the teams split the first four sets. More importantly, UBC stunned the partisan crowd with a 15-1 drubbing in the fourth to force a fifth and deciding game. Buoyed by ear-splitting fan support, and led by Czech-born CIAU Player of the Year Mirka Pribylova, Alberta narrowly edged the T-Birds 15-12 to take their third consecutive CIAU crown.

The disappointment of UBC coach Doug Reimer's charges was fully evident. Tears streamed down the faces of most players, particularly the graduating seniors of a team that Edmonton sportswriters predicted was the only one in the nation capable of dethroning Alberta. Most didn't even notice the standing ovation conceded by the crowd. It wouldn't occur to them until much later that they had earned the respect of every single witness, most of whom were almost certain only minutes earlier that UBC would emerge as CIAU champions.

After a day or two of reflection, Reimer reiterated what most already knew. Alberta was the best team in the country, but their bid for a perfect regular-season schedule had been spoiled when UBC handed them their only defeat Feb. 8 in Edmonton. Those same T-Birds went on to within a hair's breadth of repeating the same feat in the big event.

Sitting back in his office last week at War Memorial Gymnasium, Reimer let a smile cross his face and wished all his players would eventually feel the same way. "This may sound strange," he said, "but second place never felt so good."