Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — As the calendars flipped to 2019, the No.5 University of Alberta Pandas faced another tough test in the second half of the Canada West season. The Brandon Bobcats may only have three wins this year, but they pushed the Pandas to be at their best and Alberta pulled out a four-set victory (25-19, 25-18, 17-25, 27-25), Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Third-year outside hitter Kory White led Alberta's attack with 22 kills and nine digs, while sophomore outside hitter Julia Zonneveld had 12 kills and 22 digs.
Senior left side Nikala Majewski led the Bobcats with 16 kills and 12 digs for the visitors.
Alberta improved to 11-4, while Brandon fell to 3-12 this season.
"They push everyone," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler. "They're a really good team that hasn't found a way to finish matches, but they're on the cusp and a really scary team to play against.
"They play a different style that gives us fits. They serve well and that gave us trouble, but I was really happy with how we stuck with it. We're not going to have many easy games in the second half, so to face a test like this is good for us."
After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Pandas looked in full control, but Brandon battled back and showed they weren't going to go away easy.
The Bobcats snagged the third-set victory, and pushed Alberta to the brink. In the late stages of the fourth set, Brandon had three chances to close out the set and force the fifth and deciding set, but came up empty.
"It took us a little bit to learn the way U of A was playing," said Bobcats head coach Lee Carter. "You can watch video, you can discuss it, but until you see them and how they play, it took us a couple sets, and then we settled down and started playing."
"Kudos to U of A…that's why they're one of the best teams in Canada. We just have to find a way to close the door. This is our year where were a young team. We have lots to learn, but we have to continue to keep building and stay positive."
Despite being down one set, Brandon had Alberta on the ropes in the fourth set. The Pandas had to come-from-behind several times in the fourth set and go on a late run to finish off the Bobcats.
"We couldn't defend anything in the third set," said Eisler. "They had 17 kills and we had eight and we couldn't do anything to close out a rally and we got out of sync."
"I said to the team, at the timeout when we were down 19-15 (in the fourth set), we can do this. It's not going to be easy, but we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and we have to battle through each play. We can't dwell on a mistake or worry and try to fix things. Just move on to the next point."
Alberta and Brandon will meet again on Saturday at 5 p.m. MT.