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Bears and Pandas volleyball teams secure top spot

The Golden Bears and Pandas volleyball teams each earned back-to-back wins over the Mount Royal Cougars, solidifying their positions at the top of the Canada West standings to end the regular season.
As a result, both the Bears (21–3) and the Pandas (19–5) will host the Canada West Final Four at the Saville Community Sports Centre and will have an automatic bye to the tournament’s semifinals. The schedule for the Final Four has not yet been decided.

In their Friday match, the Pandas were forced to grind out a tight win, which saw the final set go the Pandas’ way by a score of 27–25 in extra points. The Pandas were led in kills by middle Jess Stroud, who had 11 kills on the night with a 0.667 attack efficiency. Defensively, every starter registered at least one dig, with libero Jessie Niles and outside Kacey Otto leading the way with 16 and 10 digs, respectively.

Saturday’s match was an entirely different story, as the Pandas shellacked the Cougars in straight sets, going 25–10, 25–10, 25–17 on their way to victory. With nine players registering points, the Pandas racked up a very respectable 0.382 team attack efficiency, compared to the Cougars’ paltry 0.032.
“I feel like tonight we really showed that how our team could play and how we progressed over the season,” fifth-year middle blocker Dione Lang said. “We weren’t satisfied with our performance last night.

“Our performance was kind of subpar and we really turned up the gears tonight. We’re really happy on that accomplishment and going into and leading (the conference) into the Final Four will be great.”
Lang said that hosting the Final Four is a huge confidence boost for the team, but they won’t be taking their opponents lightly.

“It’ll give us a chance to really focus down on who we’re playing the weekend after and really recover after a long season,” she said. “Canada West is a very strong league to play in. Every point counts for every single match.”

On the men’s side, the Cougars took the Bears to deep water on both Friday and Saturday night, forcing the volley Bears to eke out back-to-back five-set victories. Though they had five players with double-digit kills on Friday, the Bears had trouble with hitting and service errors. A bright spot in this performance was setter Brett Walsh, whose 56 assists quarterbacked the Bears to victory.

Saturday’s match was much more hotly contested, with the Bears and Cougars going set for set, trading points and momentum back and forth. However, when the pressure was on, the Bears were calm, putting the gears to the Cougars at every opportunity. In the fourth and fifth sets, the Bears battled back from 2–1 down with voracious attacks and impenetrable blocking to guarantee themselves the victory.

Fittingly, the last point of the match came off a service ace from Walsh, who matched a career high with 57 assists, giving him a monumental 1,031 on the season.

“He’s a really bright player, a really hard worker, and he’s blooming as a leader on the team as well,” Bears assistant coach Brock Davidiuk said of Walsh. “I think he’s following and fits the mould of other U of A setters like Jarron Mueller, who was here before. A really good athlete, really hard worker, and really skilled. I think it’s an asset for us to have setters like that.”

Going into semifinals, Walsh’s words should define the goals of both teams.

“Our motto is, ‘respect all, fear none,’” he said. “We’re going to come in here and may the best team win.”

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