Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The No.5 University of Alberta Pandas taught the University of Brandon Bobcats another tough lesson this weekend, as for the second night in a row, the young Bobcats put up a feisty effort against Alberta, but the Pandas earned the weekend series sweep with a straight-sets victory (25-21, 25-22, 26-24), Saturday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Third-year outside hitter Kory White led the Pandas with 14 kills and 12 digs, while third-year middle Vanessa Jarman chipped in with nine kills.
Senior left side Nikala Majewski led Brandon with 13 kills in the loss. The victory improves Alberta's record to 12-4, while Brandon falls to 3-13.
With 39 assists on the night, senior setter Mariah Walsh moves into third in the Canada West record books with 3,491 career conference assists. Walsh, as well as second-place Leah Shevkenek of the Calgary Dinos (3,592 after Saturday action), are both chasing Brittany Habing (played for Winnipeg & Manitoba between 2010 and 2018) who has 3,786. Both players have eight games left to pass Habing before the regular season is over.
"They're really tough to play against," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler. "They have nothing to lose, and they played fearlessly. Our mistakes compounded a little bit, but I was really happy with how we finished each set."
"We always feel like we have it in us, but we're tempting fate and my patience, but we can take a lot of belief and confidence from that, too."
Alberta led from start to finish in the opening set, but Brandon fought back to make it a close finish.
In the second set, however, the Bobcats got off to a hot start leading 9-4, but a White kill shut down the momentum and eventually took their first lead of the set at 12-11. Yet Brandon continued to fight back and it took a 5-0 run by the Pandas to close out the second set.
"It's learning how to close out sets in the clutch and executing so we get the dig or the block or the set to the right hitter," said Bobcats head coach Lee Carter. "We were ahead for most of those last two sets, but they found a way to come back on us. We have to find a way to close."
"We're learning and the girls are playing good volleyball, but we're not finding the W's."
Another hot start for the Bobcats began the third set as they had their backs against the wall. They jumped out to an 8-4 lead, but a Mariah Walsh ace would tie the game at 9-9.
Brandon snagged the lead back at 11-10 and looked well on their way to taking the third set, but the experience of the Pandas came through big — particularly White's. It wasn't the amount of kills she was getting, but how timely they were.
She had a kill that stopped a big Brandon run to make it 14-11. She had another kill moments later and, in the late stages with the Pandas poised for a comeback, she had two more kills that eventually led to the match victory.
"She plays the role on our team," said Eisler. "We rely heavily on her. We try to balance the attack as well as we can, but I think everyone knows where the ball is going, and she seems to always come through for us."
The Pandas showed incredible poise in the third set to shut down any chance of a Bobcat comeback.
"We were more steady and sure of ourselves and purposeful," continued Eisler.
"We know we want to keep building and getting stronger every time out. We have a lot of important volleyball and we need to perform and we played with purpose tonight."
Alberta heads south on the QE2 next weekend to play the Calgary Dinos while Brandon heads to Regina to face off against the Cougars.