U of Manitoba women's volleyball team headed to U Sports nationals for 1st time since 2014

The University of Manitoba Bisons women's volleyball team hopes to party like it's 2014 again, as they're returning to the U Sports national championship tournament for the first time in almost a decade.

Bisons defeat cross-town rival Wesmen in 5-set thriller to capture Canada West bronze

Players emotional after victory.
The University of Manitoba Bisons women's volleyball team reacts after the winning point in the Canada West conference bronze medal match against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen at the Duckworth Centre on Friday. (Nathan Liewicki/CBC)

The University of Manitoba Bisons women's volleyball team hopes to party like it's 2014 again.

Led by second-year setter Katreena Bentley and rookie left side Raya Surinx, the Bisons will be returning to the U Sports national championship tournament for the first time in nine years, after a win over the University of Winnipeg Wesmen.

The Bisons secured their spot at nationals with a thrilling 3-2 (25-21, 27-25, 20-25, 21-25, 15-13) victory over the host team in the Canada West conference's bronze medal match at a jam-packed Duckworth Centre on Friday night.

The match marked the first post-season meeting between the two storied programs since the Wesmen swept a best-of-three quarter-final series 11 years ago.

Bentley, who made the U Sports all-rookie team last season, recorded a career-high 60 assists to go along with 10 digs and three service aces in leading the Bisons to the win over their cross-town rivals.

"It's so awesome. Being at home, like, the whole atmosphere — you couldn't ask for more," she said. 

"Playing for a spot at nationals in front of all of our friends, all of our family against another home team — seriously couldn't ask for more."

Fans in the stands.
University of Manitoba Bisons fans cheer on the women's volleyball team during Friday's match against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen. (Nathan Liewicki/CBC)

Bentley's father, Ken Bentley, has been coaching the Bisons for 37 years. He's led Manitoba to the national tournament 19 previous times, including winning six Canadian university championships (1990, 1991, 1992, 2001, 2002 and 2014).

The tenacity of this season's group of players has propelled the Bisons back to nationals, even though it took time to build the team, he said.

"It's one of those overnight successes that took a decade," said Ken Bentley. "We've gathered some really good people and really good athletes that want to work. I just adore coaching this group."

The Wesmen hoped to follow in the footsteps of the U of Winnipeg's men's basketball team, who returned to nationals after a 29-year hiatus on Friday, losing 91-70 to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in Halifax.

A man looks at two athletes, talking with his hands.
Wesmen head coach Phil Hudson speaks with two of his players during a timeout on Friday. (Nathan Liewicki/CBC)

Instead, Canada West coach of the year Phil Hudson and the Wesmen women's volleyball team will have to wait at least another year for a nationals appearance. The last time the Wesmen made nationals was 2003, losing the gold medal match to University of Sherbrooke Vert et Or.

Friday's faceoff with the Bisons "was a good match," said Hudson. 

"I was very disappointed to lose but we're very proud of the girls for fighting back after being down 2-0," he said. 

"There was a very high level of volleyball on both sides of the net and a couple of breaks here and there we came out on the wrong end of."

The Bisons will find out their national quarter-final opponent on Sunday.

Nationals takes place from March 17 to 19 in Vancouver.

In addition to the Bisons team, Manitobans who will compete include Erika Vermette of Morris, an outside hitter for the host UBC Thunderbirds, and a pair of Mount Royal University Cougars: middle Mya Morgan of Rosenort and outside hitter Faye Murray of Winnipeg.

Dalhousie University Tigers head coach Rick Scott, who is from Souris, Man., will also be at nationals.


Nathan Liewicki is an online reporter at CBC Manitoba. He has worked at several newspapers in sports, including the Brandon Sun, the Regina Leader-Post and the Edmonton Journal.