By Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – In a shocking turn of events, the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, which joined Canada West 13 years ago in the 2005-06 season, claimed their first-ever victory against the No.3 University of Alberta Pandas in style, earning a straight-sets win (25-19, 25-22, 25-17) to split the weekend series, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Coming into Saturday night, Alberta had beaten Thompson Rivers in 27 consecutive conference matches as well as a combined 37 overall matches consisting of Canada West play, a two-game quarter-final playoff series sweep in 2012, and eight non-conference tournament matches.
Rookie outside hitter Olga Savenchuk recorded a match-high 15 kills on the historic night as well as 15 digs while fourth-year outside hitter Kendra Finch added a match-high 16 digs along with 10 kills. Third-year setter Abby Spratt also tallied match-highs with five aces and 33 assists.
Third-year outside hitter Kory White notched nine kills in the loss while senior setter Mariah Walsh put up 29 assists.
Though the home team managed to earn an early 4-1 lead in the opening set, Thompson Rivers fought back and eventually tied the score at 9-9. Five straight points by the Pandas got them back ahead but the WolfPack replied with a 5-0 run of its own to knot the score back up.
After that, the set was virtually all road team momentum, Thompsons Rivers going on an 11-4 run after the media timeout to take the first set, third-year middle Avery Pottle earning set point off the Alberta block and out of bounds.
The WolfPack kept up the pace to start the second set, jumping out to a 7-1 lead and putting a 5-1 run together soon after to stake a 13-5 lead.
The Pandas didn't give up, however, using a 7-2 run to cut their deficit to three at 15-12 and, after a few unsuccessful efforts, finally tied up the game at 19-19…only to fall behind twice due to unfortunate service errors.
After the second service faux-pas, rookie left side Erin Mutch replied with an ace that dipped just in front of sophomore libero Jenae Eisler, and Thompson Rivers never looked back. A couple of Alberta points got the Pandas to within one but Pottle and Finch put down back-to-back kills for a 2-0 set lead for the visitors.
One set away from history, the WolfPack showed no mercy, taking an 8-1 run to break a tight score early in the third and went on a 7-2 run to increase their lead to as high as nine heading into the media timeout.
Down 20-8 on the scoreboard, the Pandas battled one last time with an 8-2 run, but it was too little, too late, Spratt, Finch, and Savenchuk all recording kills late in the set before first-year middle Hayley McNaught capped off the historic win with an attack off sophomore libero Tessa Hill in the home team's back row.
Alberta finishes the 2018 half of the regular season with a 9-3 conference record while Thompson Rivers improves to 5-7. The Pandas begin 2019 conference action on the road against the Regina Cougars while the WolfPack heads to Manitoba to play the Bisons.