Alberta comeback earns Bears weekend sweep

Alberta comeback earns Bears weekend sweep

Paul Cartledge - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics

EDMONTON – Down two sets, the No.4 University of Alberta Golden Bears resiliently came back to take the match in five sets (22-25, 26-28, 25-19, 25-13, 15-13) and sweep the weekend series against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.

Senior outside hitter Ryan Nickifor scored a game-high 25 kills and three aces while third-year left side Alex McMullin and senior middle Taylor Arnett added 18 and 15, respectively. Team captain and senior setter Brett Walsh netted 58 assists to push his career conference total to 3,399, passing Thompson Rivers' Colin Carson (3,355; 2009-14) for second all-time in the Canada West record book.

Three outside hitters cracked double-digit kills for the Wesmen, fourth-year David Bommersbach earning a team-high 18 while fourth-year Taylor Howe netted 17 and senior Brendan Thielmann netted 16. Sophomore setter Mikael Clegg put up an impressive 60 assists in the tough loss that could have gone either way for the visiting team.

The first set was a battle from beginning to end, featuring a tied score 16 times and eight lead changes, but Howe's seventh kill of the set broke the final tie at 19-19 and fuelled a 5-1 run before Winnipeg earned the 1-0 set lead three plays later when the Calgary native and Bommersbach blocked an Arnett attack attempt.

The second set featured more ties and more Howe, the two squads deadlocking a dozen times while the Business student led all players with seven kills in the set, giving Winnipeg their final lead with a kill off the Alberta block before senior right side Kevin Proudfoot put his attack into the net for a 2-0 Wesmen set lead.

Winnipeg got two of the first three points in the third set, but that would be the last time the visitors would see the lead, Alberta returning their hitting percentage to one of the best in Canada West, attacking over 50% as four different players spun three or more kills. Nickifor led the way with six on eight attempts, sending the last one off of Bommersbach in the back row and into the crowd to the get the Bears back into the match by cutting the set deficit in half.

Nickifor, leading Alberta in kills per set coming into the weekend, led his team to a blistering start in the fourth set, firing off three straight kills to open the set and recording two more as the Bears made it a 9-1 run. The Sherwood Park, Alta. native had a total of eight kills in the set, attacking at an 80% clip while Alberta, as a whole, fired at a 54% rate and put up a stellar 92% in sideout percentage. 

McMullin's final kill of the set, off the back row and into the crowd, erased Winnipeg's set lead and gave Alberta all the momentum heading into the fifth and final set, opening with a 5-2 lead.

The teams went point-for-point on the scoreboard as the set progressed forward, Bommersbach spinning Winnipeg's last two kills to pull the road team within one but his next attempt was defiantly halted by Proudfoot, down into the Wesmen's center court to claim victory for the home team.

Alberta improves to 6-2 on the season, staying at home next weekend to host the Regina Cougars in their final weekend of the 2016 half of the regular season while the 4-4 Wesmen play two home-and-home series with provincial rivals Brandon and Manitoba before stopping for the final exam and holiday season.