Top-seeded Pandas set up all-Canada West national final with straight-sets win over Montreal

Meg Casault tallied a game-high 18 points, and the Alberta Pandas booked a date with the UBC Thunderbirds in the national final on Sunday by recording a straight sets victory (25-9, 25-18, 25-16) over the Montreal Carabins on Saturday evening at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Casault recorded 15 kills and three aces, while Shauny Hogg added eight kills for the Pandas, who used various dominant streaks throughout the second semi-final of the day to triumph over the Carabins, going up big early in the opening set and stringing together a double-digit run after Montreal gave a final push in the third and final stanza, to earn a finals berth.
“Obviously (Montreal) didn’t get the start that they wanted,” said Pandas coach Laurie Eisler. “And we just knew that a team of that calibre with that history and culture, that they weren’t just going to go away. We had to keep our level high tonight. We sided out pretty well, we controlled our game and didn’t give them many free points on our mistakes. They had to earn their points, and we capitalized when they made a string of errors.”
“It was fun, it’s always fun to play volleyball,” said Pandas player of the game Karly Janssen. “The Carabins put up a good fight and it’s always fun to play against them. We were really strong on defence, making it tough for them to put a ball away so we were good in that aspect.”
Marie-Alex Belanger tallied a team-high nine points in a losing cause for the Carabins, who will take on the Trinity Western Spartans in the bronze medal match on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. (EST).
The Pandas seemed to pick up right where they left off in their quarter-final win against the tournament host Ryerson Rams, railing off 13-straight points after trading the first few with the RSEQ representatives, then taking a commanding 16-4 lead at the technical timeout of the opening set. Led by Casault, who tallied five kills in the first set alone, the Pandas easily took the first set by double-digits, not committing a single attack error along the way.
The Carabins started out better in the second, battling back from a five-point deficit to make the score 8-6 in favour of Alberta. The national player of the year took over from there however, as Casault followed a kill with an ace, as errors helped grow their lead to 14-6. The Edmonton-based team grabbed another back-court kill, helping her team to a 15-7 advantage. Montreal responded with five-straight points, but still faced a four-point deficit at the technical.
Alexane L. Joly (Bois-de-Boulogne, Que.) brought Montreal within three with a thunderous kill coming out of the break, and, after a quiet first set, Belanger came to life soon after, helping the Carabins stay within striking distance.
The Edouard-Montpetit, Que. native recorded an ace to cut the Panda lead to a pair, but kills from Vanessa Jarman (Edmonton) and Casault sparked a 5-0 run that put Alberta at the brink of a commanding two-set lead. Jarman made good on a right-side attack to end the second.
The teams traded leads in the early stages of the third set, but Mikhaella Blanchette (Gatineau, Que.) tallied back-to-back aces, giving the Carabins a two-point edge. Belanger found the open court with another serve, but Casault responded with short ace that sparked the Pandas to 11-straight points, a match point, and a trip to the finals for a date with the Thunderbirds.
“Definitely familiar with them, we’ve had a few battles throughout the season, so looking forward to another tough competitor,” said Janssen. “It’s going to be a good game. We’re definitely going to have even more fight than we did tonight, we’re not done and have a lot more to show.”
“There’s a little bit of history,” Eisler said with a laugh. “The two programs, I think that we really push each other, along with Trinity and our other Canada West schools. UBC has always been that team for the last 10, 20 years that you have to try to match if not keep up to so this year we have had some mixed results with them and it’ll be a really, really awesome test for our team to see if we can rise to that level again.”
Alberta and UBC will do battle for the national banner on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. (EST)