By Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – Looking down and out in the final set, the No.3 University of Alberta Golden Bears regrouped from a 7-1 deficit to defeat the No.6 Mount Royal University Cougars in five sets (25-21, 26-28, 25-20, 19-25, 15-13), Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Four different Golden Bears cracked double digits in kills, team leader Taryq Sani leading with 16 kills while sophomore left side Jackson Kennedy notched 14, senior left side Alex McMullin tallied 12, and third-year middle Jacob Deinum hit 10. Deinum, a native of Barrhead, Alta., recorded a game-high 68% attack percentage with 10 kills and zero errors on 15 attempts. Kennedy also netted a solo block and five block assists while third-year setter Max Elgert added 57 assists.
Senior outside hitter Tyler Schmidt led the visitors with 18 kills while rookie middle Luis Lange and fourth-year outside hitter Trent Mounter put in eight apiece. Senior setter Tanner Greves recorded 42 assists.
The two nationally-ranked squads went back and forth on the scoreboard in the opening set, the Bears managing to slowly pull ahead on two straight blocks of Mounter attacks, propelling themselves to a 1-0 set win on the strength of a Cougar serve by Mitchel Gorman going long.
Much to the chagrin of both teams, the service errors continued into the second set, combining for 24 service errors compared to only seven aces. Alberta's second in the set, by third-year middle Lucas Dykstra began a 9-2 Mount Royal run but as those same service line faux-pas permeated the Cougar offence, the Golden Bears fought their way back, tying the score at 17.
From that point on, the two provincial foes went point for point on the scoreboard, an Elgert serve into the net giving the visitors the advantage before Schmidt put one off the Alberta block and out to tie the set score at one.
The Golden Bears opened the third set with three straight points, never relinquishing the lead for the rest of the set, even though the Cougars persisted and prevented their deficit from getting any higher than five. Still, the Alberta attack percentage (their best of the match at 46%) was relentless, set kill leader Sani putting the Bears back up by one for the set score when he put the set point off libero Jonathan Phillips in the Mount Royal back row.
A 7-2 Cougar run broke open the fourth set, the road team taking advantage of miscommunication after an Alberta block, the Mount Royal attack attempt falling undefended off the ricochet into the front court for a 24-18 score, recouped momentarily with a Deinum kill for the home team, only to have Kennedy serve into the net for Alberta's 25th service line error of the night.
Tying the set score at two, the Cougars used that momentum to build a 3-0 lead on blocks in the final set, four straight offensive points pushing the lead to 7-1 and threatening to give the Bears their first loss of the season.
Incredibly, Alberta responded with a 9-1 run to tie the set at 11-11, even pulling ahead when fourth-year outside hitter Carter McIntyre tapped a kill into the near corner.
As the two teams traded points, the Golden Bears earned a 14-13 advantage when Greves hit the net for Mount Royal's 16th service error of the match, leading to McIntyre completing the comeback in full with a powerful kill off the block, the Phillips dive not far enough to recover the wild rebound.
Alberta improves to 3-0 on the season while the Cougars fall to 2-1. The two teams will meet again on Saturday for game two of the weekend series, game time starting at approximately 6:30 p.m. MT.