Looking to regain their spot atop the nation this weekend, the Golden Bears and Pandas tennis teams head to Eastern Canada for the 2019 Tennis Canada University Championships.
Both UAlberta programs will battle the Montreal Carabins in the national semifinal on Saturday, with the women's tournament taking place in Toronto, and the men's in Montreal.
The Pandas, who lost to Montreal in the national final in 2018, will be looking for a second championship in three years. Entering this weekend, the Pandas are undefeated in competition this season, highlighted by a 5-2 win over UBC in the Western Regional Championship.
"We have played two very close matches against Montreal over the past two years, with both teams winning a tie by a very slim margin," said head coach Russ Sluchinski. "I expect this year’s tie to be similar with the difference between winning and losing coming down to a couple of games.”
The Pandas heart breaking 4-3 loss to the Carabins last season was their only loss of the season, after completing an undefeated season in 2017.
“You definitely feel the pressure at nationals; it’s tough to explain it to them because you don’t experience it in juniors," said Pandas captain Alina Jurca, who was on the national championship squad in 2017. "It would mean so much more to win now because I know what it felt like to lose the second year, and I am in a leadership role now, so it would be amazing.”
Since their last national title in 2016, the Bears have lost in back-to-back national semifinals. However, with one of their deepest rosters in program history, they head to Montreal as a tournament favourite. Like the Pandas, the Bears knocked off UBC in the Western Championship, defeating the Thunderbirds 6-1 in Vancouver.
“We have had great preparation this summer leading up to the Nationals," continued Sluchinski. "So the Bears team is expecting to play well and have a great weekend.”
This weekend will also mark the last chance for the University of Alberta to claim a national title during the 2018/19 varsity season. The Bears and Pandas have won at least one national title in every season since 1993.