Larissa Vicente Ferreira, Dinos Communications
CALGARY – The Battle of Alberta lived up to its billing Friday night, with the visiting University of Alberta Pandas earning a nail-biting five-set win over the University of Calgary Dinos, including a 20-18 fifth-set victory (25-19, 20-25, 25-23, 22-25, 20-18) in the Jack Simpson Gym.
The loss, the Dinos' first setback on home court in nearly two years, was just the third of the season for the second-ranked Dinos, who fall to 14-3. No. 5 Alberta improves to 13-4.
The epic fifth set told the story of the match with tension building from the outset. The Dinos were able to take two-point leads on three occasions but each time the Pandas responded, and back-and-forth the teams went past the 15-point mark. The teams combined for three service errors in the final nine points, including one by Kate Pexman with the Dinos leading 18-17 and the first referee overruling the line judge, giving the point to the Pandas. From there the Pandas got a block by Vanessa Jarman and a kill by Kory White to take the match 20-18.
"I think that we battled and put ourselves in a position to win," stated Dinos Head Coach Natalie Gurnsey. "We need to be a little bit more consistent and minimize our errors, but I think we played a really solid match, we will go and battle again tomorrow night."
White led the way with 21 kills for Alberta, followed by her teammate Julia Zonneveld with 17. From Calgary, Kate Pexman gathered 16 kills to lead the way.
"Obviously not the result that we wanted, but I think there was a big battle the whole way through the game and that is why we play this sport," said Dinos middle Beth Vinnell, who had 10 kills on 29 attack attempts. "The games that are tight and tough push us to our limits. We just have to learn from that and come back tomorrow. We need to focus on us and control unforced errors, continue to play our game and be more aggressive – not letting them change the way that we play."
The first set started off with the Pandas jumping out to a 12-6 lead, riding that to a 25-19 win with an efficient .375 percentage and 15 kills – a total they would later match in the abbreviated fifth set. In the second, Calgary was consistent while improving defensively, forcing the Pandas into eight attack errors as they took a 25-20 win to even the match.
The Dinos raced out to a 19-13 lead in the third but Alberta was able to battle back, going on a 12-4 run to take the set 25-23. The fourth reversed that trend, with Alberta jumping out to a 17-11 lead before the Dinos ripped off a 6-0 run to tie it at 17. A 14-5 Calgary run wrapped up the fourth and sent it to the deciding frame.
The Pandas, who went with the same seven players from start to finish, held a 63-60 edge in kills and a 15-13 edge in blocks, while their defence shone with five players in double-digit digs, led by libero Jenae Eisler.
Pexman added a match-high 24 digs to her 16-kill performance, with Hannah Tanasichuk adding 14 kills to Vinnell's 10.
The Battle of Alberta continues on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Jack Simpson Gym when the Dinos and the Pandas face off once more.
Photo by David Moll