Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The No.7 University of Alberta Pandas had all the answers against the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack. Facing elimination, Alberta pulled through with a complete team effort, Saturday afternoon at Saville Community Sports Centre, with a straight-sets victory (25-20, 25-22, 25-16) to even their best-of-three Canada West quarter final series.
Sophomore outside hitter Julia Zonneveld and third-year outside hitter Kory White led Alberta with 10 kills each, and Zonneveld put together a strong all-around game adding 15 digs and three aces in the victory.
Freshman Olga Savenchuk led Thompson Rivers with 11 kills and nine digs in the loss.
"It seemed like every set they had a surge and we knew they would. They're a great team and can get on a roll, but we handled them well and had solutions for most of what they threw at us," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler.
Zonneveld gave the Pandas a big boost, particularly in the opening set when she recorded five digs and two aces.
Zonneveld and senior middle Jess Stroud were strong defensively, shutting down the WolfPack attack on the block. Stroud chipped in with seven kills and produced an efficient attacking percentage of .412.
"Yesterday, (Zonneveld) didn't have her best offensive day, but she was doing everything else," said Eisler.
"We knew we needed more production out of our left side and, when Julia got her chances, she did great things with the ball. She does so many great things on the court with her passing and defence, too."
Zonneveld and White have been a strong 1-2 punch for the Pandas all season long, but Zonneveld's aggressive attack early, was crucial as White was searching for her potent offensive attack.
"She's tough," said WolfPack head coach Chad Grimm. "She's a gamer, and we knew that from the beginning. She carried them early until they found their game and then everyone jumped on board and that was the difference."
The Pandas also welcomed back third-year outside hitter Erin Corbett to the lineup. She provided a big spark, especially on the defensive side of the ball with 13 digs.
More importantly, the cohesion the Pandas showed on the court was evident in the win. The team was more crisp and efficient in their attack.
"This group has been playing together since January and it's hard when you have that missing component," said Eisler.
"It felt more normal today. Corbett's energy, communication, and stability on the court is really big for us.
"We were more prepared and we were in more control. We handled the hard hit balls at us and we blocked a lot better."
Through the first two sets, Thompson Rivers stayed right with Alberta, but offensively weren't getting much production outside of Savenchuk and fourth-year outside hitter Kendra Finch; additionally, their service game that gave Alberta all kinds of trouble to defend in Game 1 wasn't nearly as good.
"The Pandas were a lot better today," said Grimm.
"We had some situations to make some headway when it was tight, but we made too many 'out of system' errors and you can't afford to do that.
"It's 1-1. It's winner take all and it's exciting. We've been good in those situations down the stretch and we feel good about it. We'll have to come out and give it everything we have tomorrow."
Alberta and Thompson Rivers will wrap up their best-of-three quarter-final series on Sunday at 1 p.m. Mountain Time.