Alberta Pandas win 11th Canada West championship

Alberta Pandas win 11th Canada West championship

Connor Hood - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics

EDMONTON - The University of Alberta Pandas volleyball team defeated the UBC Thunderbirds 3-1 (25-18, 25-14, 18-25, 25-18), winning their 11th Canada West Championship, Saturday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton. 

The No. 1 seeded Pandas captured their first conference title since 2012, and their second Canada West medal in three years. 

"I'm just thrilled for our athletes and our coach staff." said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler after earning her 10th Canada West title at the helm of the Pandas. "Our team really earned this win, after everything they put into this weekend. This is arguably the most competitive conference in Canada, and to enter the nationals as the Canada West champion is a big deal, and is something that is really important to us." 

Fifth-year Alberta Panda Meg Casault scored a team-high 15 kills on Saturday, earning Canada West Final Four MVP for her efforts over the two-day competition. Fellow fifth-year Kacey Otto spun in 11 kills of her own on 38 attempts, adding 10 digs, five aces and an assist to earn the Mikasa Canada Player of the Match for Alberta. 

This is also the first conference title for Otto and Casault in their final U SPORTS match in Edmonton, as well as fifth-year Karly Janssen, who scored the Championship winning point. 

Laura MacTaggart tied Casault for the match-high with 15 kills, also adding seven digs and one block. Maggie Li and Juliana Kaufmanis finished with 11 kills each for the T-Birds on Saturday. 

Coming off a convincing semifinal win over the UBC Okanagan Heat on Friday, Alberta carried that play into the conference final, scoring a 25-18 first-set win. The Pandas received contributions throughout their lineup, as Otto and Casault combined for seven first-set kills, while rookie middle Vanessa Jarman added three of her own. 

That momentum stayed with the tournament's top seed, as they opened the second set on a 7-1 run. The offensive surge forced UBC coach Reimer to call a timeout. The short break payed off, as a pair of Kaufmanis kills sparked a 5-2 UBC run. However, Alberta's early lead proved too much to overcome, cruising to a 25-14 set win. 

UBC was the only team to defeat Alberta in conference play, doing so twice this season in Vancouver, and that version of the T-Birds showed themselves in the third. Four quick kills by MacTaggart and Kaufmanis gave the visitors an early 8-5 lead. Another 8-5 run later on all but sealed the set for UBC. Four straight points starting at 21-18 gave UBC their first set win, 25-18. 

However, the Alberta Pandas, who spent a majority of the season as the top ranked team in U SPORTS, returned to form in set four. Four kills from Casault, as well as three from Otto and one each from Jarman and Janssen paced the Pandas 25-18 win.

"We got away from what made us successful in the first two sets, but we got back to our style in the fourth set." continued Eisler after the match. "[UBC] is just an awesome team. They present so many challenges to us, they kept fighting, and never went away. I'm really proud of the girls for pushing through."

The Pandas will now advance to the U SPORTS Championship, and will almost certainly be a top two seed in Toronto. The Spartans, as well as the conference bronze medalist UBC Okanagan Heat will also represent the Canada West conference in Ontario. Canada West as accounted for 10 of the past 11 national women's volleyball champions. 

About Canada West Championships: 

Canada West is the premier athletic conference in the country and is home to champion student-athletes that excel on the field, in the classroom and in their communities. Canada West and its 17 member institutions commit to a student-athlete experience where competitive excellence, scholarship and sportsmanship contribute equally towards moulding outstanding graduates and community leaders. 

The 2017 Canada West Volleyball Final Four is proudly sponsored by Mikasa Sports Canada. Since 1997, Mikasa Sports Canada, through Catsports Inc., has distributed quality products to better satisfy the demand of Canadian athletes and is the official ball supplier for Canada West volleyball. 

Canada West – Training leaders, building champions.