2009 CIS WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

FREDERICTON, N.B. - The Montreal Carabins travel to Fredericton this week looking to capture the first CIS women's volleyball title in team history, and hoping to erase the painful memories of a heartbreaking defeat.

The eight-team, single-elimination national championship, held at the University of New Brunswick's Aitken Centre for the second straight year, gets under way Thursday with the quarterfinal round and concludes Saturday at 7 p.m. Atlantic Time with the presentation of the gold-medal final (Rogers TV local).

The CIS major award winners and all-Canadian teams will be unveiled Wednesday night during a ceremony at the Fredericton Inn.

Championship web site: www.cisport.ca/e/championships/w_volleyball/2009

Joining the top-seeded and Quebec conference champion Carabins at the CIS tournament are the No. 2 and defending national champion UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West champions), No. 3 Trinity Western Spartans (Canada West finalists), No. 4 Calgary Dinos (Canada West bronze medallists), No. 5 York Lions (OUA champions), No. 6 Laval Rouge et Or (QSSF champions), No. 7 Moncton Aigles Bleues (AUS champions), and the host and No. 8 UNB Varsity Reds (AUS finalists).

Thursday's quarterfinals will see UBC open its title defence against Moncton at 1 p.m. Atlantic, Trinity Western face Laval at 3 p.m., Calgary battle York at 6 p.m., and Montreal square off against UNB at 8 p.m. (Rogers TV local).

A year ago, Montreal had its best-ever finish at the CIS championship, reaching the gold-medal match for the first time in program history. But the Carabins left Fredericton thinking what might have been as they let a two-set-to-one lead slip away in the national final against UBC and failed to convert on three championship points in the fifth and decisive set, which the Thunderbirds finally won 20-18.

Twelve months later, the Carabins are back in New Brunswick's capital, more ready than ever to claim that elusive CIS banner.

Ranked No. 1 in all 13 national coaches polls this season, Montreal went 32-1 against CIS opponents including a 20-1 mark in conference play, 2-0 in the playoffs and 10-0 in non-conference action, en route to winning a second straight QSSF title. The Carabins' lone loss versus a CIS rival came in their regular-season finale, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Laval in a contest that had no implications on the standings.

The 2008-09 Carabins are once again led by the formidable Laetitia Tchoualack, a 5-foot-11 power hitter who has dominated CIS volleyball since joining the team from her native France four years ago. A former France national team member and an all-Canadian each of her first three campaigns in Canada, Tchoualack was named both CIS women's volleyball player of the year and CIS female athlete of year (BLG Award) in 2007-08, and is once again the QSSF nominee for CIS-MVP honours this season after claiming her third straight MVP award in Quebec.

Montreal has faced its first-round opponents, the Varsity Reds, on two occasions this year, prevailing in straight sets both in the final of the Carabins Invitational on September 23 (25-20, 25-18, 25-19) and in interlock regular-season action on November 22 (25-8, 25-15, 25-10).

"We have reached the second most important goal of our season," Montreal head coach Olivier Trudel said after his team beat Laval in two matches in the best-of-three Quebec final. "Now we can concentrate on our No. 1 objective, to capture a first national title."

Montreal's main opposition in its quest of the CIS banner may once again come from Canada West rivals. Teams currently playing in Canada West have captured 23 of the past 26 national titles, and 31 of the last 35.

The No. 2-seeded Thunderbirds, who put an end to a 30-year CIS gold-medal drought last winter, overcame a slow start to this season to claim the Canada West crown. UBC opened the regular season with back-to-back home losses to Alberta and was only 7-5 after 12 conference outings, but the Birds ended the campaign on a 10-game winning streak before going 4-0 in the playoffs including a thrilling 3-2 victory over Trinity Western in the conference final.

UBC has been a dominant force for many years in CIS women's volleyball. The T-Birds are making their 13th appearance in 14 years at the national championship – they missed 2007 – and have racked up eight CIS medals over that period including one gold, four silvers and three bronzes. They are looking to become the first team to repeat as CIS champion since Manitoba in 2002.

Third-ranked Trinity Western, returning to the national tournament after a one-year absence, finished the regular schedule fourth in Canada West with a solid 14-6 record. The Spartans went 3-1 in post-season play, earning their ticket to the CIS tourney with a five-set upset of first-place Alberta in the conference semi-finals.

Like UBC, No. 3 Calgary has ranked among the nation's best for the past decade. Making their ninth straight appearance at the end-of-the-year event, the Dinos have reached the CIS podium five years running, collecting four straight bronze medals since capturing the third national title in team history in 2004.

After dropping a 3-0 decision to the Thunderbirds in this year's Canada West semi-finals, Calgary had to beat archrival Alberta in its own gym to earn a trip to Fredericton. The Dinos prevailed at the end of a five-set marathon.

"We could have easily folded our tents in a tough game against Alberta, but we showed we really wanted to be at the CIS championship, and that's what got us in," first-year Calgary head coach Jesse Knight said as he reflected on the Canada West winner-take-all bronze-medal duel.

"I know that they have two big power hitters, but that's really about it," added Knight of first-round rival York, against whom the Dinos have a 2-2 all-time record at the CIS championship. "They're a conference champion, they've put together a nearly undefeated season, so it's going to be a challenge for sure. They've been good and steady all year, so it'll definitely be a tough match."

A victory over York could set up a semi-final match-up between the Dinos and No. 1 Montreal, which knocked Calgary out of the CIS championship in 2008 with a 3-1 semi-final win.

The rest of the field is comprised of a usual suspect and a trio of programs on the rise.

Returning to the CIS tourney for the first time in 12 years, No. 5 York is enjoying the best season in program history. After going 18-1 in conference play, the Lions claimed their first OUA championship since 1997 Saturday with a convincing 25-20, 25-12, 25-14 win over McMaster.

The Lions now want to prove OUA teams can compete at the national level. Since 1993, only one Ontario side, the 2001 Toronto Varsity Blues, has made it past the first round at the CIS tournament. Three-time champion Western Ontario remains the only OUA team to claim the CIS title (1976, 1975, 1972).

The only team to beat top-ranked Montreal this season, No. 6 Laval returns to the CIS tourney after a one-year absence for its 17th appearance in 18 seasons. The Rouge et Or captured their lone title in 2006, and lost to Alberta in the 2007 national final.

The No. 7 Moncton Aigles Bleues earned their first CIS championship berth since 2002 with a 3-1 defeat of the No. 8 UNB Varsity Reds in the AUS title match.

Both New Brunswick squads are looking to advance past the first round of the CIS tournament for the first time in history.

NOTES: All 11 games from the CIS championship are available through video webcast… Rogers will televise three games locally including Thursday's Montreal-UNB quarterfinal and Saturday's bronze and gold-medal matches…

TEAM INFO

No. 1 Montreal Carabins

Head coach: Olivier Trudel (5th season)
Regular season record: 20-1
Regular season standing: 1st QSSF
Playoff record: 2-0
Playoff finish: QSSF champions
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): No. 1
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 1 (all 13 weeks)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 13
Conference award winners: Laetitia Tchoualack (MVP), Olivier Trudel (coach), Nadine Alphonse (student-athlete)
Conference 1st team all-stars: Laetitia Tchoualack, Nadine Alphonse
Conference 2nd team all-stars: Marie-Pier Murray Méthot, Alexandra Lojen
CIS championship, last appearance: 2008 (finalists)
CIS championship, sequence: 4th straight appearance, 5th in 6 years
CIS championship, best result: Finalists (2008)

No. 2 UBC Thunderbirds
Head coach: Doug Reimer (11th season)
Regular season record: 15-5
Regular season standing: 3rd Canada West
Playoff record: 4-0
Playoff finish: Canada West champions
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): No. 5
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 3 (1 week)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 13
Conference award winners: Katie Tyzuk (student-athlete), Claire Hanna (libero)
Conference 1st team all-stars: Marisa Field
Conference 2nd team all-stars: Jen Hinze, Liz Cordonier
CIS championship, last appearance: 2008 (champions)
CIS championship, sequence: 13th appearance in 14 years (missed in 2007)
CIS championship, best result: 5-time champions (2008, 1978, 1977, 1974, 1973)

No. 3 Trinity Western Spartans
Head coach: Ryan Hofer (4th season)
Regular season record: 14-6
Regular season standing: 4th Canada West
Playoff record: 3-1
Playoff finish: Canada West finalists
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): No. 4
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 2 (1 week)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 13
Conference award winners: none
Conference 1st team all-stars: Dayna Jansen Van Doorn
Conference 2nd team all-stars: none
CIS championship, last appearance: 2007 (4th place)
CIS championship, sequence: return after 1-year absence, 3rd appearance in 4 years
CIS championship, best result: 4th place (2007)

No. 4 Calgary Dinos
Head coach: Jesse Knight (1st season)
Regular season record: 16-4
Regular season standing: 2nd Canada West
Playoff record: 3-1
Playoff finish: Canada West bronze medallists
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): No. 3
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 2 (1 week)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 13
Conference award winners: Holly Harper (MVP)
Conference 1st team all-stars: Holly Harper
Conference 2nd team all-stars: Lauren Perry
CIS championship, last appearance: 2008 (bronze medallists)
CIS championship, sequence: 9th straight appearance
CIS championship, best result: 3-time champions (2004, 1994, 1989)

No. 5 York Lions
Head coach: Arif Nathoo (2nd season)
Regular season record: 18-1
Regular season standing: 1st OUA East (1st overall OUA)
Playoff record: 3-0
Playoff finish: OUA champions
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): No. 9
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 8 (1 week)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 4
Conference award winners (OUA East): Antonia Stathakos (libero), Thinesa Sriskandarajah (rookie), Arif Nathoo (coach)
Conference 1st team all-stars (OUA East): Candice Paulsen, Thinesa Sriskandarajah, Nadia Reider
Conference 2nd team all-stars (OUA East): Angela Frawley
CIS championship, last appearance: 1997 (7th place)
CIS championship, sequence: 1st appearance in 12 years (1997)
CIS championship, best result: 5-time bronze medallists (1991, 1990, 1985, 1984, 1982)

No. 6 Laval Rouge et Or
Head coach: Alain Pelletier (2nd season)
Regular season record: 14-7
Regular season standing: 2nd QSSF
Playoff record: 2-2
Playoff finish: QSSF finalists
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): No. 8
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 8 (7 weeks)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 9
Conference award winners: Sarah Létourneau-Lévesque (rookie), Catherine Marois-Julien (libero)
Conference 1st team all-stars: Julie Rodrigue, Mélanie Savoie
Conference 2nd team all-stars: Catherine Marois-Julien
CIS championship, last appearance: 2007 (finalists)
CIS championship, sequence: return after 1-year absence, 17th appearance in 18 years
CIS championship, best result: 1-time champions (2006)

No. 7 Moncton Aigles Bleues
Head coach: Monette Boudreau-Carroll
Regular season record: 15-5
Regular season standing: 1st AUS
Playoff record: 2-0
Playoff finish: AUS champions
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): unranked
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): none
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 0
Conference award winners: Jolanie Gallant (libero), Kristine Levesque (student-athlete), Monette Boudreau-Carroll (coach)
Conference 1st team all-stars: Kristine Levesque, Rachelle LeBlanc
Conference 2nd team all-stars: Noémie Michaud
CIS championship, last appearance: 2002 (6th place)
CIS championship, sequence: 1st appearance in 7 years (2002)
CIS championship, best result: 6th place (2002)

No. 8 UNB Varsity Reds
Head coach: John Richard (11th season)
Regular season record: 12-8
Regular season standing: 2nd AUS
Playoff record: 1-1
Playoff finish: AUS finalists
Final Top 10 ranking (Feb. 10): unranked
Best Top 10 ranking (13 weeks): No. 6 (3 weeks)
Number of weeks in Top 10 (13 weeks): 5
Conference award winners: none
Conference 1st team all-stars: Melanie Doucette, Jill Blanchard
Conference 2nd team all-stars: Tanya Paulin
CIS championship, last appearance: 2008 (tied 7th place)
CIS championship, sequence: 2nd straight appearance
CIS championship, best result: Tied for 7th twice (2008, 1987)

CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (all times LOCAL: Atlantic Time)


Video webcast of all 11 games available through: www.cisport.ca/e/championships/w_volleyball/2009

Wednesday, February 25
17:30 Media Conference (Fredericton Inn)
19:00 All-Canadian Award Banquet (Fredericton Inn)

Thursday, February 26
13:00 Quarter-final #1: No. 2 UBC vs. No. 7 Moncton
15:00 Quarter-final #2: No. 3 Trinity Western vs. No. 6 Laval
18:00 Quarter-final #3: No. 4 Calgary vs. 5 York
20:00 Quarter-final #4: No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 8 UNB (Rogers TV local)

Friday, February 27
13:00 Consolation #1
15:00 Consolation #2
18:00 Semi-final #1
20:00 Semi-final #2

Saturday, February 28
14:00 5th place
16:00 Bronze medal (Rogers TV local)
19:00 Championship final (Rogers TV local)

Source: CIS Communications