Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The no.6 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears are back on track. After a disappointing five-set loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday, Alberta came up with a gritty and gutsy four-set (26-24,19-25, 27-25, 26-24) Saturday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre to clinch a Canada West playoff berth.
Third-year outside hitter Taryq Sani led the Bears attack with 22 kills and six digs, while senior left-side hitter Alex McMullin chipped in with 13 kills and seven digs. Sophomore outside hitter Dylan Mortensen led Saskatchewan with 30 kills in the loss.
With the win, the Golden Bears improve to 13-5, while Saskatchewan falls to 9-9.
"It was a big win, but more importantly I saw some much needed fight from us," said Golden Bears associate coach Brock Davidiuk. "They're a good team, and they were better tonight. They didn't take the gas pedal off and they pushed us and we knew we had to be ready."
After splitting the first two games, Alberta looked in disarray in the third set. They were down 17-11 and were struggling to wrestle momentum away from Saskatchewan, but that's when Davidiuk and head coach Terry Danyluk looked to their bench for a boost.
Third-year setter Max Elgert came off the bench and was a force at the service line, while fourth-year outside hitter Carter McIntyre and freshman left side hitter Braedon Friesen gave the Bears a huge spark.
Down 17-11, Alberta took a 18-17 lead. Then, trailing 24-21, they caught fire with five-straight points to take the third set win.
"I'll point to Carter (McIntrye) and what he brings to the court and what he does for this team really turned things around today," said Davidiuk. "Max's serving run in that third set really won us the game. It gave us a chance to breath and allowed us to go on that run.
It was an impressive win for Alberta, and it was a big weekend for Sani, who matched his season-high 22 kills for a second-straight game.
Despite letting the third set slip away, the Huskies kept pushing Alberta to the limit.
They took a lead early in the fourth set, and even when the Golden Bears regained the lead, the Huskies weren't going away easy. Saskatchewan tied the set five different times, including 21-21 and 24-24 late, but the Bears prevailed.
Next up, both Alberta and Saskatchewan enter their "bye" week before Alberta hosts the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat, while Saskatchewan travels to Kamloops, B.C. to take on the Thompson Rivers University Wolf Pack, February 8-9.