Connor Hood - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON - The No. 1 ranked University of Alberta Pandas advanced to the Canada West Final with a straight-sets semifinal win over the No. 5 UBC Okanagan Heat (25-22, 25-19, 25-21), Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
The win also secures a spot in the U SPORTS Championship next weekend for the Pandas, who are returning to the national championship after a one-year absence. The UBC Okanagan Heat still have a chance to book their spot to nationals, as they need a win tomorrow in the Canada West bronze medal match.
Fifth-year Panda Kacey Otto finished with a game-high 13 kills on 33 attempts, while Canada West Player of the Year Meg Casault spun in 11 kills on Friday. Second team all-star Mariah Walsh earned a game-high 36 assists for the Pandas as well.
Michelle Jakszuk led the Heat with 10 kills on 29 attempts, while also adding eight digs and an ace. Fifth-year outside hitter Megan Festival led UBC Okanagan with 31 attacks, but found the floor for only seven kills, and had nine attack errors.
The Pandas spent a majority of the season ranked No. 1 in U SPORTS, leading Canada West with a 22-2 conference record. That pedigree showed itself early in the semifinal, as the experienced Pandas jumped out to a 7-2 lead. Casualt and Otto led Alberta with four kills each in the first. The Heat cut into the Alberta lead later in the first, but were unable to get within two of the Pandas. Late kills by each Otto and Casault gave Alberta a 25-22 set win.
The strong play of UBCO later in the first set carried over into the second, as the No. 5 ranked Heat opened the set up 9-6. Three kills from each Festival and Aiden Lea grew the UBCO lead to as many as five, up 17-12 late in the second. However, the Heat couldn't hang on, allowing the Pandas to go on a 13-2 run, giving Alberta a 25-19 set win.
Otto paced the incredible second-set turnaround, scoring five kills in the set; Casault spinning in four of her own, and three from all-rookie team member Vanessa Jarman.
Just like the second, UBCO came out firing to open the third, owning a 12-5 lead. A pair of kills from Lea, as well as four errors from the Pandas worked in the Heat's favour. Once again, the veteran savvy of Alberta showed in the third, with another long Pandas run levelling the set at 15. An error by the Heat, as well as another Otto kill gave Alberta a slight 20-18 lead. Three more kills, as well as a pair of errors from UBCO handed Alberta the match with a 25-21 win.
Alberta will now await the winner of the Trinity Western/UBC Thunderbirds semifinal, while the Heat will take on the loser with the final national spot up for grabs. The Canada West bronze medal match is slated for 5:00 p.m., while the gold match is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., both at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
About Canada West Championships:
Canada West is the premier athletic conference in the country and is home to champion student-athletes that excel on the field, in the classroom and in their communities. Canada West and its 17 member institutions commit to a student-athlete experience where competitive excellence, scholarship and sportsmanship contribute equally towards moulding outstanding graduates and community leaders.
The 2017 Canada West Volleyball Final Four is proudly sponsored by Mikasa Sports Canada. Since 1997, Mikasa Sports Canada, through Catsports Inc., has distributed quality products to better satisfy the demand of Canadian athletes and is the official ball supplier for Canada West volleyball.
Canada West – Training leaders, building champions.