Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The No.5 ranked University of Alberta Pandas responded dominantly against the Saskatchewan Huskies and clinched their berth in the Canada West playoffs. One night after a disappointing four-set loss, the Pandas returned the favour with a dominating four-set victory (25-14, 25-13, 23-25, 25-18), Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Third-year outside hitter Kory White led the Pandas with 19 kills, while sophomore outside hitter Julia Zonneveld had 10 kills and 20 digs.
Freshman middle Mandi Fraser led the Huskies with nine kills in the loss. The Pandas improve to 14-6, while the Huskies fall to 8-12 yet remain in the playoff hunt.
"We know we can't play like we did last night if we want to have any chance against a good team," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler. "We challenged ourselves to better tonight and we were."
Alberta dominated the opening two sets and had the Huskies scrambling all over the court looking for answers.
In the second set, they jumped out to an 11-1 lead, and continued to pour it on to lead 16-3. Jess Stroud recorded three service aces in the set and Vanessa Jarman had four of her seven kills in the second set.
"They played way better," said Huskies head coach Mark Dodds. "They served a lot more aggressively and they were so good defensively against us. The game kind of flipped on us from last night."
White led the charge offensively for the Pandas once again, but the effort that Zonneveld put together helped propel the Pandas to the victory.
"She (Zonneveld) defended really well and she came up with some timely aggressive serves. She always seems to come up with that big play and shine in that big moment," said Eisler.
"We need to be balanced. We lean heavily on Kory (White), and good teams will slow her down but tonight we had everyone step up and contribute."
The Huskies showed character to earn the third-set win. After getting beaten soundly in the opening two sets, they didn't back down in the third set and pulled out a gritty 25-23 set win.
"We got things straightened out in the third set, and started to play to our level, but you have to have a much better effort if you want to beat a team like that," said Dodds.
"It was nice to see us not pack it in. We got lots of positives out of it, but we have to put more work in to make sure we finish the last two weeks strong."
The Pandas got off to a strong start in the final set, and though the Huskies came back to take an 11-10 lead, a Stroud ace and some big plays from Stroud, Zonneveld, and Vanessa Jarman fueled a 15-7 run to put Saskatchewan away.
"We didn't talk a lot about what happened last night. They all know." said Eisler. "We didn't overreact and focus on the results from last night. We reset and we were in a much better mindset to compete in.
Next up, both Alberta and Saskatchewan enter their "bye" week before the Pandas host the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat, while Saskatchewan travels to Kamloops, B.C. to take on the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, February 8 – 9.