Connor Hood - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON - The University of Alberta Pandas set a new program with their 17th consecutive win to start a season, knocking off the visiting Mount Royal Cougars in straight sets (25-21, 25-23, 25-17), Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
The win broke the record set in 1994/95, when the Pandas finished the season with a perfect 16-0 record, en route to the first of their six straight national titles.
With the loss, the Cougars fall to 7-10 overall, but maintain their hold on the seventh and final playoff spot in Canada West.
All-time Canada West kills record chaser Meg Casault finished with a game-high 14 kills on 33 attempts for the Pandas, while Alex Donaghy led the Cougars with nine. Defending Alberta and Canada West Player of the Week Mariah Walsh led the game with 37 assists on Friday.
Casault now needs just 29 kills over her final seven conference matches to break the all-time Canada West kills lead, currently held by former Panda Tawana McLeod (nee Wardlaw).
Also of note, fifth-year Alberta Panda Kacey Otto finished with exactly 14 digs, earning her 1,000th career dig on the final play of Friday night's match. Otto becomes just the second player in Pandas history to crack the 1,000 mark, joining Pandas alum Jessie Niles.
Digs and strong defence were the theme in the opening set, as the Pandas recorded 20 to the Cougars 15, led by Otto's seven and Eryn Orysiuk's six. The Pandas were able to take control of the back-and-forth opening set by going on a 8-2 run, before taking the set 25-21.
The Pandas were the beneficiaries of a long-serving run in the second set, ending the Cougars slightly momentous run. Karly Janssen ripped off five straight points for the Pandas, erasing a slight 18-14 Cougar lead. Otto would spin in six of her 10 kills in the second, paired with three digs in the Alberta 25-23 set win.
Aces ran wild in the final set, with the teams combining for a staggering ten in the third, and 20 aces overall in the match. Shauny Hogg tallied four, Otto three, and Walsh two in the third. Not to be outdone, MRU found success from the service line by virtue of two from Robyn Potolicki. However, the Cougars floundered late in the third, ending the match on a 10-2 Pandas run.
The two Alberta foes will face off once again tomorrow, with a 5:00 p.m. start time scheduled for Game 2 of the weekend set.