UFV’s Gabrielle Attieh stepped back onto a Canada West volleyball court this fall and quickly helped to transform the Cascades women’s volleyball team into a contender.
The Surrey product became the first-ever UFV volleyball player to be named the CW player of the year last week and her eye-popping stats did not lie.
She was first in the nation in points (458.5), and first in the conference in points per set (4.9). She also led the conference in kills per set (4.34), a wide margin over the next highest swinger who posted 3.80. She also had a strong defensive season, finishing seventh in the conference in digs with 292.
The Cascades finished an impressive 18-6 – the team’s best record in years – but beyond all the numbers, Attieh said the team’s success was a collaborative effort. She said a culture was built after this season – one she stated was the most fulfilling of her career.
She arrived to Abbotsford after already winning a pair of national titles with the UBC Thunderbirds (2017 and 2019) and then playing professionally in Europe over the pandemic. Part of the draw of coming to UFV was the opportunity to play with her two younger sisters Lauren Attieh and Talia Attieh.
“It was something I wasn’t sure would ever align to happen,” she said. “And when I started speaking with Janelle [Rozema, head coach] and she laid out her vision of the program, I thought it was a beautiful story that she was starting to write here. I liked the idea of being a part of something new and building a foundation for future years.”
After many years in the Pacwest conference, UFV made its debut for volleyball in the CW in 2021-22. UFV finished 6-10 in season one, but thanks to Attieh and others made a big jump in year two.
That jump almost felt like a stumble early into the 2022-23 season, as the Cascades started off the season at 0-4 and were on pace to go 0-5 after dropping the first two sets to the Saskatchewan Huskies on Nov. 4 in Abbotsford. Attieh said Rozema fired the team up in what could have been a devastating moment.
“I remember Janelle looking at us in the time out and she just said we need people to come alive right now,” Attieh recalled. “And my sister Lauren popped her head up and she had this like fire in her eyes. She was a machine that game and it sparked us.”
The Cascades won three straight sets after that moment to earn their first win on the season and then won 13 of their next 14 games to climb into the top of the standings.
UFV ran into a tough Winnipeg team in round one of the CW playoffs, but Attieh said she is very optimistic for next season. The Cascades did not have any players graduate out of the program and they have a lot to build on from 2022-23.
“We laid down our emotional agility and our mental game this year,” she said. “We were tested in high pressure points and we learned that we can successfully stay connected. We also fully ingrained our offence and defensive systems and as the season went on we were able to build some variety and creativity. I think the possibilities for what’s to come are endless.”
Rozema said Attieh has been such a valuable part of the team and deserving of the player of the year honour.
“She’s the one who is going to be pushing you in the weight room, and she’s on track to be an academic all-Canadian, so she was a really great example to our team in that she’s not just a good volleyball player, but a well-rounded student-athlete, and person.
“She brings a massive amount of leadership to our team – and wisdom and experience. I think that her presence in the U Sports league makes our league, and all of our teams stronger.”
Attieh added that she is also looking forward to hitting the floor with her youngest sister Talia Attieh, who red shirted with the Cascades this season. It’ll be her final season in the CW but she also has dreams of playing more professionally and on the international stage.
“It was always my goal to compete with the national team and that’s something I was able to achieve this past summer,” she said, noting that she played in two tournaments in the red and white under the NextGen Program. “But I also don’t think that’s my end goal. I want to see where my trajectory with the national team could go.”
For more on the team, visit gocascades.ca.