Olivia Krol, Dinos Communications
CALGARY – For the first time since 2005, the University of Calgary Dinos are the Canada West Women's Volleyball champions after a four-set win over the UBC Thunderbirds Friday night (25-21, 20-25, 25-22, 25-10).
The win is Calgary's 10th all-time conference title in 2005 and sends them off to the U SPORTS national championship next weekend in Quebec City, where they will likely be the top-seeded team after spending the last two weeks at No. 1 in the national rankings.
"UBC plays a really fast game, they're a big team and they really spread their offence – they have an amazing fifth year setter that uses all her people really wisely," said a jubilant Dinos Head Coach Natalie Gurnsey. "All week we talked about playing smart – handling our speed, and making good decisions regardless of the situation we are in. Knowing what's ahead, this week we trained like we always do, and tried to keep the preparation the same, as to not put any more pressure on this game than there already is. As a team we talked about staying in the moment and remembering what makes us a great team. We definitely got rewarded for that, but now its time to re-shift our focus to the tournament ahead."
In a packed Jack Simpson Gymnasium, the teams fought an impressive battle Friday night, as the T-Birds totaled 52 kills and Calgary accumulated 50. The Dinos managed an average of .296 with 41 digs, while UBC notched .156 and 42, respectively.
Showing why she was named the CW Player of the Year, Kate Pexman led the Dinos in kills, pounding a match high of 19 while also recording 10 digs and a .317 hitting percentage. Beth Vinnell added eight kills and eight blocks, while Leah Shevkenek impressed with 40 helpers and eight digs. Rookie Kenzie Vaandering impressed with her performance, registering 5 kills and a .556 average, to earn the Dinos' player of the game award.
"It's a big stage, and as a first year coming in, there's a lot of pressure," commented Vaandering. "For me, I emphasize isolating every play, and taking it one point at a time. It's important to not get caught in the moment, especially against such a physical team like the Thunderbirds. Today we had to be aggressive, swing hard and take risks, which is a style we like to play anyways, so that worked toward our advantage."
Kiera Van Ryk paced the UBC Thunderbirds with 14 kills, while Olivia Furlan added 11 kills and 10 digs. Alessandra Gentile notched seven kills and three blocks, while Gabrielle Attieh and Anna Price added four kills apiece. Alessandra Gentile recorded 26 assists, while Furlan added nine.
The first set was a back-and-forth affair as the teams found themselves tied 13-13 at the midway point, with Furlan and Van Ryk notching kills for UBC, while Amber Adolf and Pexman did the same for Calgary. The Dinos opened up a bit of breathing room, 17-15, off a Vinnell service ace, and extended its margin to 19-16 following a Moffatt kill. A bad set by Furlan and a kill by Pexman clinched the set for the Dinos, 25-21.
The Thunderbirds opened on an 8-3 advantage in the second, following stellar plays by Van Ryk and Gentile. The Dinos tried to catch up, closing in at 15-13 after an attack error by Ciara Hanly, but were unable to get any closer than two. Van Ryk registered two more kills in the set, while Danae Shephard added one. On the set clinching point, UBC capitalized off an attack error by Pexman and kill by Furlan, taking the play 25-20.
In a tightly-contested third set, the Dinos were neck-and-neck with the T-Birds, as the teams met several times throughout, starting at 7-7. Vaandering made it a 10-10 affair, while two Van Ryk kills were sandwiched around a Moffatt slam-down to put the score at 18-18. Double kills by Pexman forced the set point, and ultimately closed out play, 24-22. The Dinos finished the frame with 17 kills and just five errors for an attack percentage of .308, while the Thunderbirds battled out 15 kills and a 0.250.
The fourth and deciding set was pure Dinos domination, as Calgary was able to go on a 9-1 run early on to pull out in front for good. Though UBC attempted to minimize the early deficit, Vinnell skillfully blocked their efforts, and slammed down the deciding kill to snag gold for the Dinos, 25-10.
Both the University of Calgary Dinos and UBC Thunderbirds, along with the UBC Okanagan Heat and the Alberta Pandas, are now headed to the national tournament, which opens Friday night at Laval University in Quebec City.
Photo by David Moll