EDMONTON — Last year, the University of Alberta Pandas had to watch the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds celebrate a national championship on their home floor, and there was no way Alberta was going to let them have any reason to celebrate once again.
Kory White led Alberta with 18 kills, while Julia Zonneveld had 15 kills and 14 digs in a four-set victory (25-22, 25-21,17-25, 25-20), Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Gabrielle Attieh led UBC with 16 kills and nine digs, while Jayde Robertsen and Brynn Pasin chipped in with 10 kills each in the T-Birds loss.
Alberta improves to 6-5, while UBC drops to 6-5 in the Canada West standings.
“With their serve game, they’re only one serving run away from a tie game. We never felt a lead was safe until the end. I was really happy with the team not losing composure,” said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler. “They’re always going to be that team on the calendar creates an extra level of excitement to play. This was their first game back since winning the national championship and we knew they’d be excited to play here and we knew we’d have to play a real tough game.
“It’s a great rivalry, and the athletes don’t know the half of it. Doug is such an outstanding coach and they have tonnes of talent across the lineup and they’re always hard to play.”
Alberta led from start to finish in the opening set and UBC pushed back in the second set, but Alberta was able to take advantage of 16 service errors in the match, playing a part in earning the second-set win.
But the defending U SPORTS national champions weren’t going to lay down easy and in the third set started to really give the Pandas all kinds of trouble.
Alberta went on a mini 5-1 run late in the third set to give them a little confidence.
“That’s the thing about volleyball...you can wipe the slate clean. It’s easy for us as coaches to say forget about it, but it’s not easy, and we started to push back a bit in the third and we started to feel good about ourselves and that really helped us in the fourth set,” said Eisler. “We have two different styles of play. They’re a great team with so many weapons, and you know you have to play right to the bitter end against them.”
Alberta and UBC battled back and forth, but the Pandas were able to grab momentum from veteran middle Erin Corbett from the service line.
She rattled off five straight points to break the game open. Corbett had two of her four aces in the fourth set. UBC led Alberta 10-8 in service aces, but the Pandas only committed nine service errors, which played a big part in the win.
“She’s (Corbett) got into a really nice rhythm and the ball was dancing for her. That’s the thing with the serve game, sometimes you’re hot and she was really on tonight,” said Eisler. “We try to keep our errors down and stay in control of our serve so we’re hitting our serve to good targets and get points that way.”
Zonneveld is always among the Pandas leaders in digs every weekend, but her 15 kills gave Alberta a big 1-2 punch of offence with White to go head-to-head against the powerful T-Birds offence.
“She’s (Zonneveld) been really coming on in the last couple weeks offensively. She had her mom in the stands tonight and I think that really helped her,” said Eisler. “I’m really looking forward to see big things from her in the second half of the season.”
Alberta and UBC will wrap up their two-game weekend series on Saturday at 5 p.m. MT.