EDMONTON – After a heartbreaking loss in game two of the best-of-three quarter-final series, the No.6 University of Alberta Pandas responded with a big straight-sets win (25-20, 25-8, 25-12) over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies to claim game three and the series, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Regular season conference leader Kory White continued her offensive prowess with 17 kills on the night, also adding two aces, while fourth-year outside hitter Erin Corbett added 11 kills and a team-high three aces. Third-year setter Elyse Hart tallied a match-high 36 assists.
After cracking the top five single-match performances in the Canada West playoff record books on Friday night with 31 kills, fourth-year outside hitter Emily Koshinsky earned a team-high nine in the Huskies’ final match of the season, sophomore setter Averie Allard netting 20 assists.
The opening set was filled with momentum shifts for both squads, short runs on either side shifting the balance on the scoreboard, second-year middle Mandi Fraser earning a block assist and knocking back two kills for three straight points on the fourth such run to give the Huskies a 16-14 lead at the technical timeout.
“Fraser showed she’s going to be a force throughout the rest of her career,” praised Saskatchewan head coach Mark Dodds. “We got off to a good start, which we hadn’t necessarily done in the other two matches, and then just sort of petered off a little bit; but kudos to Alberta, they put the pressure on us and made us crack a little bit.”
The Pandas came out strong after that timeout, taking an 11-4 run, strengthened by half of White’s eight kills in the set, before Corbett powered one down the line to take a 1-0 set lead.
“Tonight, I think we were better than we were last night in every way,” commended Alberta head coach Laurie Eisler. “We dealt with the pressure better. That’s the thing this time of year, you never really know how you’re going to respond to playoff pressure and we didn’t respond great last night. Tonight was a totally different story. I’m really happy with the bounce back.”
Bursting out of the second set, the Pandas were up 12-3 with points coming from everywhere, the service line, blocking, and the attack all factoring into the score, the home team rattling off eight consecutive points to an incredible 20-5 lead.
“Between the three outside hitters, they all contributed in different ways,” continued Eisler. “Elyse distributed the ball really well, putting the ball in a good location, and that tends to help the overall and they pass better. When offence goes well, you can’t just give credit to one person either, there are multiple things that happen to lead to that situation. I think it was a real true team effort.”
Alberta closed out the second set with four straight points, third-year outside hitter Julia Zonneveld sending a kill off fourth-year setter Shae Beaulieu and into the crowd before assisting on a block with team leader Sydney Warchola, the defensive move putting the ball straight down onto the Huskie front court.
“I was really happy with Julia today,” lauded Eisler. “She was struggling a bit offensively, but she was solid in other parts of her game. She was a real solid performer tonight.”
Leading the team in digs on the night, the Calgary native got her biggest by instinctively preventing a Saskatchewan attack midway through the third set, the ball ricocheting straight to White who put it back to Zonneveld for a center-court kill amidst a crowd of Huskies, putting the momentum squarely on Alberta’s side.
The defence/offence combo was part of a seven-point run by the home team to break open a tight final set, the building momentum slightly mired by a Warchola error at the service line before the Pandas netted five more to close out the match and the series.
“It was a good battle,” commented Dodds. “I thought it was very entertaining volleyball. Very high level. We dropped off at times a little bit, but I think both teams showed that Canada West is still a very strong volleyball conference.”
“Saskatchewan: give them tons of credit,” replied Eisler. “They’ve come so far and they didn’t do it all this year. That’s the result of a lot of hard work and disappointments over the years to get to a point where now, you get a chance to move on to the next stage. I’m sure they’ll take a lot from the experience this weekend as well.”
“Pretty exciting to see three second-year players on our starting lineup,” answered Dodds. “Future looks bright. We’re excited.”
Alberta advances to the semifinal round, potentially hosting a best-of-three series next weekend or heading on the road, depending on the outcome of the Mount Royal-UBC quarter-final series that finishes on Sunday.