Ben Matchett, Dinos Communications
CALGARY – The University of Calgary Dinos are off to the Canada West women's volleyball final next week after a four-set win over the University of Alberta Pandas Saturday night, sweeping their best-of-three semifinal series 2-0.
The No. 1-ranked Dinos (25-3) will host the UBC Thunderbirds (24-4) for the Canada West banner next Friday night in the Jack Simpson Gym, live on CanadaWest.tv, with Calgary looking to capture its first conference title since 2005.
They did it the hard way again, scrapping to get past a Pandas squad that seemed to dig up everything and coming back from a 26-24 loss in the opening set to take the second 29-27, the third 26-24, and the fourth by a 25-22 margin.
It was a night of extraordinary defence on both sides, with both teams hitting well below their season averages and combining for a whopping 186 digs in the contest. But the Dinos were able to take advantage of 15 Alberta service errors, overcoming the Pandas' edge in hitting percentage to come out on top.
"I truly feel that when this group decides to play and be confident, they are the hardest team to beat," said Dinos Head Coach Natalie Gurnsey. "But we get in these ruts where we lose confidence, so this was a big character win to kind of grit our way through it, even when we were down to keep believing in ourselves."
After Friday night's five-set affair – a 15-13 Dinos win in the fifth – it looked like the teams were headed there again with the Pandas leading 20-14 in the fourth set and the Dinos unable to get the ball down against the Alberta defence. Then, Kate Pexman stepped behind the service line. Two aces and three Beth Vinnell blocks later, the Dinos were up 21-20, and a Vinnell kill made it 22-20 before the Pandas finally ended the run. Another Vinnell kill got the ball back in Calgary's hands, and she ended it with back-to-back service aces, accounting for seven of the Dinos' final eight points.
Vinnell, a first team conference all-star, earned the Mikasa Canada player of the match award for the Dinos after her 14-kill, eight-block, two-ace performance. Alberta's Erin Corbett, who led all players with 22 kills on 62 swings in the match, was the Pandas' player of the match.
Corbett easily outpaced the rest of her teammates in kills, with Shauntelle Hogg picking up nine while Mary Pless added seven. Jenae Eisler had a match-high 29 digs on the night, with Pless (20) and Eryn Orysiuk (12) joining her in double digits.
Kennedy Snape's 20 digs led the Dinos, with Pexman and Laura McManes each adding 19 while Leah Shevkenek chipped in 14. Pexman was again the Dinos' leader with 18 kills on the night.
Neither team crossed the 20 per cent hitting threshold in a set, with Calgary's 19.2 in the third set coming closest. The Dinos hit 9.9 per cent on the night, with the Pandas slightly better at 12.6. It was the Dinos holding a 94-92 edge in digs as both teams put on an incredible defensive show.
The Dinos and Pandas could meet again on the year, with both teams having already qualified for the U SPORTS national championship in Quebec City March 16-18, joining Canada West foes UBC and UBC Okanagan. The Thunderbirds swept the Heat in their best-of-British-Columbia semifinal Saturday, sending UBC to Calgary for next week's conference championship match.