Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — Playoff time can produce big performances in pressure-filled moments, and the No.7 ranked University of Alberta Pandas stepped up big against the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack.
Third-year outside hitter Kory White recorded a career playoff high with 26 kills, while sophomore outside hitter Julia Zonneveld set a career-high 29 digs in Alberta's four-set victory (25-17, 21-25, 25-16, 25-14), Sunday afternoon at Saville Community Sports Centre to win their Canada West quarter-final series 2-1.
Freshman outside hitter Olga Savenchuk led the WolfPack with 15 kills in the loss.
"We talk about wanting to resemble ourselves when we're under pressure. Sometimes you try to do more than you normally do, but you have to be yourself," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler.
"We did a nice job; if we were overreaching, we would bring it back down, calming down and staying patient."
Alberta saved their most efficient playoff performance for the final game of the series and set the tone early with a strong opening set.
White blasted five kills in the opening set and their team attack percentage was a blistering 70 percent.
Thompson Rivers was the definitive underdog in the series, and played that role all weekend long. They took the opening game of the series and pushed the Pandas in Game 3.
They responded with a big second-set win, but Alberta didn't back down and wasn't going to let Thompson Rivers pull off the upset.
"The second set…they sustained that surge they have, but every set they brought that surge. You have to be patient and play with that and keep the level high on our side and we did a great job of that today," said Eisler.
White finished among the conference leaders in kills this season and she came through with her best performance of the playoffs so far with a strong balanced attack. She had eight kills in the second set, six more in the third, and seven more in the final set.
"She doesn't wear down. On a third day, she's still getting to the same elevation. Mariah did a great job of playing to Kory's strength and she was in a real zone today," said Eisler. "There were some kills we needed in some real clutch moments and she came through. It was impressive."
Thompson Rivers struggled to find any consistent offensive attack in the third set. Alberta's strong play from the service line had the WolfPack on their heels. Despite a decisive second-set win, Thompson Rivers wasn't able to sustain any kind of momentum shift.
"We got stuck in a couple rotations we couldn't get out of," said WolfPack head coach Chad Grimm.
"Alberta was playing really good defence and we couldn't find solutions off the block. They were playing it past the block and we couldn't pick it up.
"They served tough and I thought Kory (White) had a great game offensively. It was the best she's played all weekend and she really gave us a tough time. She's physical and some of those balls we just can't stop.
With their season on the line, the WolfPack pushed back hard in the fourth set. Both teams traded leads for the early portion of the set, but the Pandas took the lead for good after third-year middle Vanessa Jarman put together a strong sequence with two straight kills and a service ace.
Jarman finished with three kills and three digs and was a wall defensively on the block.
"Those are the moments that really determine the outcome in every set. Being able to string together good plays and not stop the momentum," said Eisler.
We've been guilty at times of letting other teams off the hook, but today we did a good job of really forcing the pressure on them and making them work."
Alberta will travel to Trinity Western University next week for the Canada West best-of-three semifinal series. Game 1 is slated for Thursday, February 28.