Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The No.1 Brandon Bobcats sent another strong message to a perennial U SPORTS powerhouse. One week after knocking off the Trinity Western Spartans, Brandon ended the No.4 University of Alberta Golden Bears eight-game winning streak by clawing their way to a straight-sets victory over the Golden Bears (25-23, 26-24, 33-31), Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
It marks nine straight wins for Brandon and the Bobcats haven't lost a single set during their win streak, improving Brandon to 13-2 while Alberta drops to 12-2.
Fourth-year outside hitter Seth Friesen led Brandon with 20 kills and nine digs while third-year outside hitter Elliott Viles had 13 kills and seven digs. Fourth-year setter Reece Dixon recorded a match-high 56 assists.
Senior left side Alex McMullin led the Bears with 12 kills and six digs while third-year setter Max Elgert tallied 35 assists.
"I'm really pleased with how it went," said Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson. "We know this is an extremely tough place to play and they have a historical program that's had so much success, and we just wanted to focus on ourselves and be the best version of us we could be."
"It was one of those games where, a break here or there, and the game was going to go the other way; and we got some breaks tonight. At times we were good, and at times we weren't, but we found ways to chip away and get the job done."
The Golden Bears went toe-to-toe with the Bobcats, since despite getting swept in three straight sets, each game was incredibly close.
The Bears fell behind in the opening two sets, but battled back and had control in the late stages, yet couldn't put Brandon away.
"We talk about that 2%," commented McMullin. "If you don't pay attention to that 2%, it's going to cost you those two points and there were some balls where we lost it for ourselves tonight, but they played really well and pushed us."
"We had breakdowns on our system on defence. We had a pretty good plan in place, but those 2% plays we didn't come out ahead on."
In the final set, the Golden Bears jumped out to a big 8-2 lead, but Brandon showed why they've moved into top spot in the national rankings as they battled back to tie it at 17-17. There was no room for any errors as both teams continued to trade points in the marathon third set.
"That set was long. I could really feel it," said McMullin.
"I'm proud of the boys. We were relentless and focused and even though we didn't win tonight, that was one of our best sets of the year. We didn't come out on top, but we can use this as frustration to build on for tomorrow."
Being ranked No.1 is new territory for Brandon, and after the winning point was scored, their bench was filled with elation. They know beating the Golden Bears on their home court is a big confidence builder.
"We were going blow for blow against each other and there were times where we couldn't stop them and they couldn't stop us. We had to wait for an error to happen and, fortunately, we were able to control our first touch in the later part of that set to get the job done," said Wilson.
"We know the rankings don't mean much right now, but we're just focused on being better every time we step on the court."
The two squads will meet again on Saturday with the match starting at approximately 6:30 p.m. MT.