By Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – Despite tough opposition from the Mount Royal University Cougars, the No.5 University of Alberta Pandas vanquished their provincial foes in a straight-sets victory (25-16, 26-24, 25-20) in their home-opener, Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Team kill leader Kory White and sophomore outside hitter Julia Zonneveld each had a game-high 11 kills in the match, the latter also adding two aces and 10 digs. Second-year middle Myja Wildenhoff netted four solo blocks and two block assists in the win, currently putting her first in the conference in solo blocks (7), total blocks (15), and blocks/set (1.88). Returning setter Mariah Walsh recorded 34 assists.
Third-year right side Carly Davies led the visitors with nine kills and 11 digs while rookie setter Sarah McKillican tallied 26 assists in Mount Royal's first loss of the season.
Momentum swings highlighted the opening set, three straight points by Alberta giving way to five consecutive Mount Royal scores, including three back-to-back-to-back kills by third-year middle Anna Carlson.
Though the Cougars were up by as much as 9-5, the third-best blocking team in the conference put up two in a row to begin a 10-2 run for the home team before doubling up Mount Royal with an 8-4 run to end the first set.
Zonneveld scored the last two kills for the Pandas, putting set point off the Cougar block and out to earn a 44% attack percentage in the opening set.
The road team came out hungry to start the second set, opening with an 8-1 run and adding a short 5-0 streak soon after for a 13-5 lead, only to endure an 11-2 run by Alberta that completely erased the scoreboard advantage.
The two undefeated squads fought back and forth after that, tying at 24 before third-year outside hitter Erin Corbett sent a kill off the Mount Royal back row and confusion at the front of the Cougar side of the net led to set point for Alberta.
The seesaw battle continued into the final set before the Pandas broke things open with six-point and four-point runs. To their credit, Mount Royal managed to cut the seven-point deficit in half, but the match ended anticlimactically with the two teams exchanging service errors, White sending one into the net before third-year outside hitter Sadie Wilson replied with a long serve.
Alberta improves to 3-0 on the season while the Cougars fall to 2-1. The two teams will meet again on Saturday for game two of the weekend series, game time starting at 5:00 p.m. MT.