Kory White was killing it. The third-year Alberta Pandas outside hitter picked the perfect time to record her career-high in kills.
In front of a raucous home court, White put in a dominant 30 kill performance to lead No.7-ranked Alberta to a four-set upset victory (23-25, 25-14, 25-22, 25-19) over the No.2-ranked Toronto Varsity Blues in the third quarterfinal match on Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Third-year middle Vanessa Jarman chipped in with 11 kills, while OUA kills leader Alina Dormann led Toronto with 14 kills and eight digs in the loss.
White’s 30 kills marked the second highest in playoff history, only two behind former Panda Tiffany Dodds and UBC’s Kiera Van Ryk, who recorded 32 kills in the 2019 national championship tournament opener on Friday against Trinity Western.
“Kory can be absolutely dominant, and she was tonight,” said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler.
”It’s so inspiring to have the crowd behind us. We’ve played in so many hostile environments and we’ve been successful and sometimes we haven’t, but it felt so nice to have everyone behind us.”
Outside of a second set that Alberta won with authority, the other three sets were extremely tight. Both Alberta and Toronto play a similar style and each school took turns going on big runs offensively.
“The third and fourth were real battles,” said Eisler. “That’s what this time of year is like. You may have a server on a roll, or you get in a rotation where it’s a good matchup and the points come easy, or there’s moments where you can’t buy a point. When you get your opportunities, you have to run with it.
“There were moments where we could’ve caved, but we chose not to tonight, we decided to fight and that’s a good instinct to have in a national quarterfinal.”
After the Pandas dropped the opening set 25-23, they caught fire in the second set and didn’t give Toronto a sniff of any momentum.
In the third set, both teams continued to exchange points, but back-to-back kills by White gave Alberta a 14-13 lead, and they never relinquished it.
“I think Alberta played solid defence and their hitters did a good job being far more efficient than we were. They contained our strengths very well,” said Varsity Blues head coach Kristine Drakich
“We started serving tough and got them out of rotation, but we didn’t capitalize on it enough.”
The Varsity Blues got off to a red-hot start in the fourth set, jumping out to a quick 5-1 lead, but Alberta found a way to rally right back and tie the game.
Back-to-back aces from sophomore middle Jenna Woock led to Toronto taking a 14-9 lead, but then White took over the set and wasn’t going to give Toronto any opportunity to send it to a fifth and final set.
White had her fingerprints all over the fourth set, recording five kills over an eight-point span and then four more kills and a service ace to put the dagger in the hearts of the Varsity Blues.
“We got stuck in a rotation and we weren’t able to pass really well and they made us pay for it,” said Drakich. “The middle was working well, and we were having trouble getting the ball up, but it was passing that really got us in trouble in that set.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. I’m proud of how we started the game and we played solid defence, but we had difficulty sustaining it.”
Alberta is hosting the national championship for the first time since 2010, and in their tournament opener, they put forward a complete team effort to earn the victory and move on to Saturday’s semifinal.
The Pandas were efficient on the attack line in the first two sets, and in the third and fourth sets, they had to grind it out and dig deep to put away the Varsity Blues.
They simply weren’t going to be denied.
“There’s something about trying to win, but what’s more powerful is refusing to lose and we tapped into that emotion a little more and it worked for us,” said Eisler.
“Everyone played to their strengths tonight. Nobody is perfect, but they all brought that special something and we really needed it tonight.”
Players of the Game
- Alberta : Kory White
- Toronto : Anna Licht