Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — The No.5 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears have battled some adversity this season, but they're now facing some adversity this program has rarely dealt with over the last quarter century. The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack pulled off a stunning four-set upset (25-22, 23-25, 25-21, 25-20) on Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series.
WolfPack senior outside hitter Tim Dobbert led Thompson Rivers with 25 kills, while Bears third-year outside hitter Taryq Sani led the Bears with 18 kills in the loss.
The Bears season is now on the line. If they lose this series, Alberta will not qualify for the U SPORTS national championship for the first time in 19 years.
"The guys can't be concerned with what's on the line. We have to trust ourselves and know that we can come back from this," said Bears associate coach Brock Davidiuk. "It's good to have a short-term memory in this case. We just have to focus on playing. We can't worry about those other things (nationals), because that's a dangerous mindset to be in.
"Our philosophy all year has just been to compete because there's someone on the other side. Not for any other reason, and that will be our mindset tomorrow and we'll leave it all out there."
All four sets were very tight, but after both teams split the first two sets, TRU took control of the game.
They took an early lead and the Bears weren't able to string together any momentum as the WolfPack led the rest of the way.
In the fourth set, it virtually played out in a carbon-copy fashion. The Bears held an 11-10 lead only to see TRU go on a big run and Alberta wasn't able to regain the benefit on the scoreboard.
Alberta's attack percentage was an uncharacteristic .208. Senior outside hitter Alex McMullin and senior middle George Hobern were limited to just eight and three kills, respectively.
"There were a lot of things not working for us. Maybe it was a case of us trying too hard," said Davidiuk.
"I feel for our guys. They were trying hard. We just weren't able to problem-solve the other team tonight. Thompson Rivers is a good team and they served us tough and their offence was clicking and they blocked us well."
The WolfPack serve game was on point. At times this year, it's been a sore spot for Thompson Rivers, but their serve gave the Bears trouble the entire match. The WolfPack posted eight service aces in the win.
"We did a good job of putting pressure on them with our serving," said WolfPack head coach Pat Hennelly.
"We've stuck with our serving all year and we've had our struggles, but it was really huge for us today."
Thompson Rivers finished the Canada West regular season with an 11-11 record. They started the year 7-3, but fell on hard times later in the season. Hennelly hopes his team is hitting his stride in the playoffs.
Earning a playoff win against Alberta will build the confidence of the WolfPack, but they know the Golden Bears will be better in Game 2 of the series.
"We've been up and down and I think the guys have been in this league and have experience and they know this place hasn't been good to us in the past, and this win feels good," said Hennelly.
"I know that Terry and Brock are great coaches and I know they're going to respond tomorrow with a lot of fire. I know the way these guys respond when they get poked and we're going to have to be ready."
Alberta and Thompson Rivers will continue their quarter-final series on Saturday at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.