Pandas edge Dinos for 10th conference title

(ISN) – CALGARY – The University of Alberta Pandas will get a chance to defend their national title after they upended the host University of Calgary Dinos 19-11 in Sunday’s Canada West championship game at McMahon Stadium.

Denying the Dinos a first-ever Canada West title, the Pandas captured the 10th conference banner in program history by jumping out to a quick start with a try less than three minutes into the contest, then withstanding late Calgary pressure to qualify for the CIS championship Oct. 30-Nov. 2 at the University of Guelph.

A quick start was the game plan for the Pandas, who had fallen victim to a fast opening by the Dinos in the lone match-up between the teams in the regular season, a 19-15 win by Calgary.

“One of the big things we talked about was staying strong and getting a good start, because we knew what had happened to us last time,” said Alberta head coach Matt Parrish, who was named the Canada West coach of the year. “We knew that if we could hang with them for a while, we have done better in the second half – so it was absolutely the game plan to get ahead so we’re not chasing the game, which is always tough to do.”

That quick start came courtesy an early try courtesy Ashley Amson as the Pandas broke free of the pack in the early stages. Rebecca Fairbairn converted to make it 7-0 Alberta early.

Calgary would get on the board just over 10 minutes later when Kate Scotland, the Dinos’ hero in the semi-final against Victoria, made good on a penalty goal try to cut the lead to just four. A Stacie Becker try and another Scotland penalty goal came next as the teams traded scores, and Alberta took a 12-6 lead into the half.

The Pandas dominated possession for the first half hour of the second period, not allowing the Dinos to put together any sustained momentum. That persistence paid off with just under 10 minutes to play when Amee Svatos scored a backbreaking try – one that was converted, importantly, by Alanna Fittes to make it a three-score game and, really, snuff out any chances the Dinos had of a comeback. Fittes was named the conference MVP following the game.

The Dinos, however, would not relent, and they drove downfield immediately and were rewarded with their lone try of the contest. Fifth-year senior Ellen McGregor finished off an impressive sequence for the hosts to score the try and bring the Dinos within eight points. Calgary kept the gas pedal down in the waning moments, but were unable to touch the ball down in the end zone on the final play of the game as the Pandas celebrated their conference title.

“Once we got that lead, and especially once we scored the second try, it was all about keeping it tight,” explained Parrish. “We knew they were going to come back for one last go, which they showed.”

For his part, Dinos head coach Simon Chi applauded his team’s effort in a losing cause.

“We played some good rugby, but again there were some dry spots there in the second half,” said Chi, whose team has captured the conference silver medal three consecutive years. “Alberta did a great job – they played down in our end and we struggled to get out. We played with character and managed to put a lot of pressure on at the end, but ultimately we just fell a little bit short.”

The loss ushers in a changing of the guard for the Dinos, who lose a number of graduating players including program stalwarts like McGregor and prop Sammy Crandell along with Anna ahart and Michelle Mullane.

“You knew that they were hungry, and as a coach you want it for them for the years that they’ve given,” said Chi. “There’s a new generation that’s coming in underneath and ready to step up, but there’s a bit of melancholy there. For me, it’s bittersweet because this is the group that I brought in when I first started, and now they’re moving on.”

1st Half
ALB – Ashley Amson try (Rebecca Fairbairn convert), 3′, 7-0 ALB
CGY – Kate Scotland penalty goal, 16′, 7-3 ALB
ALB – Stacie Becker try, 28′, 12-3 ALB
CGY – Kate Scotland penalty goal, 32′, 12-6 ALB

2nd Half
ALB – Aimee Svatos try (Alanna Fittes convert), 71′, 19-6 ALB
CGY – Ellen McGregor try, 80′, 19-11 ALB