EDMONTON, AB - With a lack of a closing gear the UBC Okanagan Heat were unable to take a set off the Canada West women's volleyball's No. 1-seed University of Alberta Pandas in the Canada West semifinal Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Leading in the final two sets by a half dozen points the home team was able to comeback in both sets and advanced to the Canada West Final with a straight-sets semifinal win over the No. 4-seed UBC Okanagan Heat (25-22, 25-19, 25-21).
The loss for the Heat means they need a win in the Canada West Bronze medal match to advance to the U SPORTS Championship next weekend. To return to the national championship the Heat will need to beat the Trinity Western Spartans on Saturday night. First serve is set for 4 p.m. PST.
The win sends Alberta to the Canada West final and 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. Alberta will play UBC in the final on Saturday following the Heat match with the Spartans.
UBC adavnced to the Canada West finals with a four set win over TWU (25-19, 19-25, 25-12, 25-21).
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, Sara McCreary dished out 29 assists and 10 digs. Fifth year Kaitlynn Given led UBCO with 12 digs and she also spun an ace and had nine kills, middle Aidan Lea also had nine kills.
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.
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 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.
The Canada West bronze medal match is slated for 4 p.m. PST, while the gold match is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. PST, both at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
UBC Okanagan will face a Trinity team that finished 21-3 on the season but UBC Okanagan responded extremely well last weekeknd in two must-win matches last weekend in Calgary winning both in impressive fashion, this is the first must win match for Trinity this year.
~ With notes from Connor Hood, University of Alberta Communications