By Paul Cartledge
EDMONTON – The University of Saskatchewan Huskies didn’t make it easy, but the undefeated No.1 University of Alberta Pandas prevailed with a straight-sets victory (29-27, 25-19, 25-17) to sweep the weekend series, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Astoundingly, the Pandas have won all but two of their 20 sets in the young varsity season, tonight’s victory led by fourth-year outside hitter Karly Janssen who had a game-high 14 kills while Meg Casault and Kacey Otto, also playing the same position, added nine apiece. Casault also netted two aces while third-year setter Mariah Walsh earned one and a game-high 35 assists.
Third-year middle Josie Leduc cracked the double-digit barrier in kills for the road team, spinning 10, while senior setter Jina Barker recorded 31 assists.
A quick Pandas run early in the first set got the home team a 6-2 lead but the Huskies stormed right back to tie things at seven and, although a four-point run midway through the set regained the momentum for Alberta, Saskatchewan refused to give up.
Matching their hosts on the scoreboard several times, the extended set unfortunately ended anticlimactically, fourth-year left side Emmalyn Copping going out of bounds on her attack and third-year libero Jennifer Hueser hitting the ball twice to give the home team the 1-0 set lead.
The middle set, on the other hand, had the Huskies jump out to a 6-2 lead but the Pandas then stormed back to tie things at seven in an offensively-minded set, both squads spinning 15 kills but Alberta avoided committing a single attack error, Janssen and Casault combining for 11 of the team’s kills, Janssen ending the set on a long rally with a deft tip over the Saskatchewan block that Hueser couldn’t save.
The top-ranked team in the country started with a 4-0 lead to open the final set, but the Huskies refused to lay down, erasing the deficit to a single point, but the Canada West and CIS silver medalists turned their offence up a notch, fueling a 9-3 run to put the Pandas up 16-9 going into the technical timeout.
Though the Huskies scored three straight points, Janssen replied with two straight kills before Otto and Casault added one apiece, all but ending the game that struggled to finish, attack errors seeping into both team’s efforts but rookie left side/right side Taylor Annala’s attempt went long to end the final set, 25-17.
The 6-0 Pandas will remain in Edmonton next weekend but head to MacEwan University to square off against their city rivals, the Griffins, while 2-6 Saskatchewan takes a “bye” week before returning to action against the Dinos in Calgary.
Senior libero Jessie Niles put up 14 digs to pass Trinity Western’s Andrea Ball (1,066; 2006-11) for fifth all time in career conference digs in Canada West history.