Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – Strengthening their position in hosting a quarter-final playoff series in a week's time, the No.8 University of Alberta Pandas quickly ended their penultimate match of the regular season, winning in straight sets (25-18, 25-13, 25-16) over the Brandon University Bobcats, Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Team kill leader Kory White led the team with 10 kills while sophomore outside hitter Erin Corbett added nine and senior setter Eryn Orysiuk established a new team record with 909 assists in a single season, 33 in tonight's match alone, breaking the previous high of 902 by Mariah Walsh in the 2015-16 season. The Edmonton native also notched four aces, tying her for the team record of 44 in a single season, set by Canada West career ace leader Kacey Otto in the 2016-17 season.
Fourth-year left side Nikala Majewski recorded 10 kills and two aces for the visitors while senior setter Mary Thomson put up 18 assists. Canada West ace leader Michelle Egger added two more to improve her season total to 70.
The Pandas improve to 14-9 on the season, and by not losing a single set, have a greater chance at holding onto the tie-breaker against Trinity Western, who also came into the final weekend with a 13-9 record. Brandon falls to 10-13, giving them only the slimmest of chances to make the playoffs with one game remaining for them as well as the teams in front of them.
The opening set was a back-and-forth battle before a 6-1 run by Alberta with 13-11 on the scoreboard pulled the home team ahead. Unfortunately for the road squad, attack and service errors by the Bobcats help push the Panda lead even higher, Egger's serve on Alberta match point going long down the right side to give the hosts the 1-0 set lead.
In the second set, Alberta broke another deadlock with a solid run, peppering a 9-2 run with aces as well as White kills to put the Pandas in the driver's seat. Orysiuk set up a Corbett kill down the middle to finish off the set with a 6-1 run, ended by Alberta's first block of the match, Julia Zonneveld and Jess Stroud combining to return the ball to Bobcat center court as Brandon mishandled the recovery to lead the game to its final set.
With Egger at the service line to open the third, the Bobcats scored three straight points, including Egger's two aces, but the rookie left side helped the Pandas knot the score back up with two straight attack errors.
From then on, the teams fought once more until another Alberta burst, this time netting eight consecutive points to grab full control of the momentum and, despite a little bit of pushback by Brandon, Orysiuk finished the set on the record-tying ace, putting it just low enough to fool freshman libero Caitlin Le.
Game two of the weekend series goes Saturday, the final match of the regular season for both teams, game time starting at approximately 6:30 p.m. MT.