Cougars hope to bounce back at tough Game 1 loss

Photo: David Moll
Photo: David Moll

CALGARY – The top-seeded University of Calgary Dinos needed just three sets and 74 minutes to take the Canada West women's volleyball playoff opener over their crosstown rivals, defeating the Mount Royal University Cougars in straight sets (25-12, 25-8, 25-22) Thursday night in the Jack Simpson Gym.

The Dinos, ranked No. 2 nationally, lead the best-of-three series 1-0 and will look to book their ticket to the semifinal round – and to the U SPORTS national championship – in Game 2 Friday night.

The match opened the second straight weekend between the Calgary rivals after the Dinos swept the Cougars to end regular season play one week ago. In Thursday's postseason contest, the Dinos racked up 42 kills compared to Mount Royal's 22, hitting a .372 compared to .056.

"When you play a team back-to-back I feel it can go eiher way," said Dinos Head Coach Natalie Gurnsey. "Sometimes it makes teams too familiar with each other's styles, because they just played one another. In today's match-up though, I feel it was neutral – it was neither an advantage or a deficit, as it was more about the players' mental headspace."

Calgary's Kate Pexman posted double-digit kills, scoring 15 and tallying six digs, followed closely by Amber Adolf who contributed nine kills while hitting on a .471 clip. Teammates Laura McManes and Jaylynn Moffatt chipped in seven and six kills, respectively. Leah Shevkenek dished out 30 assists as Calgary's primary setter.

Anna Carlson, Chantel Park and Alex Donaghy recorded six kills apiece for the Cougars on the night, while Cassidy Kitchen added two. Allisa Dandenault registered 12 assists and a dig, and Carly Davies contributed three service aces. 

Calgary opened the match with a 7-2 run to force a Mount Royal timeout, with Pexman tallying two kills during the stretch while Shevkenek added three service aces. Coming off the break Park immediately nicked a kill, but Calgary rebounded with a 5-0 spurt that featured kills from Pexman, Moffatt and Adolf, pushing the score to 12-6.

Though Mount Royal tried to catch up with help from Nicky Zalasky and Carlson who made it 14-10, the Cougars would get no closer than the four for the remainder of the set. The Dinos sealed the play at 25-12 off an attack error by Zalasky.

With the second set, Calgary once again jumped out of the gates with a quick 6-1 lead. The Dinos capitalized on three Mount Royal errors, also using kills from Pexman and Moffatt to build on their lead and force a Cougars timeout. Out of the break, Calgary never let up and took its largest lead of the night, 25-8, following a 5-0 run that featured two Vinnell kills. Calgary benefited from two back-to-back Mount Royal errors that put the set away, taking a 2-0 lead in the match.

The Dinos fell into a 5-1 hole in the third set before rallying back with a 3-0 stretch to even things out, 8-8. A kill by Vinnell tied things up again at 10-10, after which Pexman added two, making the score 13-10 for the home team. Calgary managed to hold onto the lead despite the Cougars coming close at 24-22 off a service ace by Park. A kill by Pexman gave Calgary the frame, 25-22.

"Going into this match-up, we knew that Mount Royal would fight back, they wouldn't just 'roll over' in the third," said Gurnsey. "As a team we knew we had to stay aggressive and patient. For us, today was about staying calm and sticking to our game plan." 

The Dinos and Cougars return to the court Friday night for Game 2 of the best-of-three showdown. First serve at 5:30 p.m. MT, live on CanadaWest.tv.