Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The No.6 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears seem to be in hibernation mode the last few weeks, Alberta missing a chance to clinch a Canada West playoff spot with a disappointing five-set loss (22-25, 25-20, 25-18, 15-25, 16-14) to the Saskatchewan Huskies, Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
The Bears fell to 12-5 and have lost four of their last five, while Saskatchewan improves to 9-8.
Third-year outside hitter Taryq Sani had a season-high 22 kills to lead Alberta, while sophomore outside hitter Dylan Mortenson led Saskatchewan with 17 kills.
For the first time in almost 20 years, the Golden Bears have lost three straight conference home games.
"We had the lead every set and we gave it up. That's not fighting back, that's letting fighters come back. I'm really disappointed," said Golden Bears associate coach Brock Davidiuk.
"We've played like this a lot of the year, and a lot of teams have gotten better. We haven't made improvements. We need to find a way to get better at playing with leads. We led in every set, by a lot, and we let this slip away."
After taking the first set, the Bears looked well on their way to a second-set victory, but a combination of service errors and mistakes around the net gave Saskatchewan life and they went on a 6-1 run to take the second set.
The uncharacteristic mistakes continued to haunt Alberta in the third set. After Saskatchewan tied it at 15-15, they went on a big 10-3 run to close out the set.
"This stings," said third-year middle George Hobern. "We had strings of errors where we couldn't stop the bleeding and it killed us. We have to be better."
The win for the Huskies was big as it keeps them in the playoff hunt. Earning a road victory over the Golden Bears will give Saskatchewan loads of confidence.
"It's a big two points in the standings. It's a dogfight for the fifth to eighth spot in the standings and these two points are valuable," said Huskies first-year head coach Nathan Bennett.
"I was a former Golden Bear, and I knew they were going to fight back and battle and they did and it was a testament for our guys for staying in the battle."
Saskatchewan showed poise having given up the 2-1 lead and fighting back to take the fifth set. They were down 4-1 early, and battled back to take an 8-7 lead before Alberta regained another lead before Saskatchewan rallied to close out the set.
"I couldn't be more proud of everyone on our team tonight," said Bennett. "It was a complete team effort and team win."
The Golden Bears aren't hitting the panic button yet, but their latest loss will force them to do some soul-searching.
"We're in a funk," said Hobern. "We're dropping some games that we shouldn't be. These losses should mean a lot to the guys and we have to start playing with more of a chip on our shoulder and start showing other teams what we know we're capable of."
Alberta and Saskatchewan will continue their two-game weekend series Saturday night at approximately 6:30 p.m. MT.