Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — Everything was coming up aces for the No.7 University of Alberta Pandas. Looking to be in fine form with the Canada West playoffs just two weeks away and earning a season-high from the service line, Alberta cruised to a 3-0 decision (25-13, 25-15, 25-13) and series sweep of the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Third-year outside hitter Kory White led Alberta with 11 kills, while third-year middle Vanessa Jarman chipped in with nine kills. Fourth-year middle Aidan Lea and rookie left side Jade Bussard led UBC with five kills each in the loss.
The Pandas' serve game was on fire as they recorded 14 aces (previous season high was 11) and only one service error. Alberta improves to 16-6 in the Canada West conference, while UBCO has lost 12-straight and fall to 2-20.
"Our serve game is starting to really come alive, and this is a gym we need to be comfortable serving in," smiled Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler, her team hosting the 2019 U SPORTS national championship on March 15-17.
"That's one you want to remember because that doesn't happen very often. We had a couple players that put together some real good streaks. When you're feeling confident and you want the ball, it's a good feeling."
Alberta and UBC Okanagan battled back and forth in the opening set, but once sophomore outside hitter Julia Zonneveld got to the service line with Alberta leading 13-10, the Pandas went on a big run.
Offensively, senior setter Mariah Walsh was spreading the ball around and Zonneveld recorded three of the Pandas seven aces in the opening set. Alberta kept their foot on the gas pedal and went on a 12-3 run to finish for a 1-0 set lead.
They did more of the same in the second and third sets against a young and inexperienced Heat squad.
In the second set, the Pandas went on a 14-7 run to close it out and, in the final set, it was an 18-8 run.
"We kept our scoring runs going and that's so critical in a set when you can run some points on an opponent," said Eisler.
"We're really working hard and staying where they need to be mentally. We know how challenging volleyball can be in February and March, and it was a real efficient weekend for us."
For the inexperienced Heat, it was a weekend of learning. They were swept both games, but showed some signs of hanging in there against a much more experienced Pandas' squad.
"I don't feel like we played necessarily any better (on Saturday). The Pandas served incredibly well, and they only had one error. They played such an efficient game," said Heat head coach Steve Manuel, who was really impressed with freshman setter Sarah Demers, who recorded 21 assists in her first career start.
"We're young and trying to figure things out and we're making a lot of young errors and when you do that, you don't give yourself a chance, but this team works hard and we know we're going to get better.
"They're in a full playoff prep mode and we're playing catch-up. We're in two completely different places in our development and it makes it tough for us to compete."
The Pandas honoured the program's graduating players prior to the match on Saturday. Walsh, along with senior middle Jess Stroud as well as fourth-year outside hitters Mary Pless, Tessa Hill, and setter Lauren Smith played their final regular season home games for the Pandas.
Alberta finishes their regular season next weekend on the road against Winnipeg, while the Heat returns home to host Thompson Rivers on Feb.15-16.