By Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – Leading Canada West in blocks per set, the No.5 University of Alberta Pandas complete the weekend sweep with strong defence to make it two consecutive straight-sets victories (25-21, 25-18, 25-14) over the Mount Royal University Cougars, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Six different players recorded a block solo or block assist, senior middle Jess Stroud leading with three block assists while senior setter Mariah Walsh recorded two block solos along with 31 assists to become the first Alberta Panda to hit 3,000 career conference assists. Third-year outside hitter Kory White led the team on offence with nine kills and two aces.
Third-year middle Anna Carlson and third-year right side Carly Davies both netted the team-high of five kills while rookie setter Sarah McKillican tallied a match-high 19 digs. The native of Comox, B.C. also earned 20 assists.
Though the final score has difficulty showing it, the Cougars were making victory difficult for the Pandas for most of the night. The opening set was a back-and-forth affair, the Pandas narrowly staying ahead because of early back-to-back Walsh kills.
Mount Royal managed to eventually tie the set at 20-20, but the conference-best defence came up big, fourth-year outside hitter and Walsh bookending a four-point run with solo blocks, Walsh squeezing her third kill of the set down through the Cougar block. White then finished the set with a kill off of McKillican and into the near crowd.
A couple of 6-2 runs kept the Pandas ahead on the scoreboard in the second set, blocks unsurprisingly working their way into the momentous runs, but Mount Royal persistently remained within striking distance before third-year middle Vanessa Jarman tapped a kill over the Cougar block to find empty front court and followed with an ace off the road team's back row to set up set point.
White improved the set score to 2-0 with a kill off of senior middle Nicky Zalasky and opened the third set with another kill before notching two aces in a match-deciding run.
The nine-point run got the Pandas to 11-1 and smelling blood, rang off an 8-2 run, tainted only by service errors, to create an insurmountable 19-4 lead, again with more blocks filling up the stat sheet.
Though the Cougars made a valiant effort to hit double digits before the set ended, a Jarman attack hit the Mount Royal block and fell out of bounds on the Panda side to finalize proceedings.
Alberta improves to 4-0 on the season while the Cougars fall to 2-2. The Pandas head out on the road next weekend to face the Trinity Western Spartans while Mount Royal takes the "bye" before hosting the Brandon Bobcats the following weekend.