It's an exciting time of year as the best teams across the country gather for the final weekend, where one team will be crowned for the 2017 season. On the men's side, the U Sports FOG Men's Volleyball Championships is taking place at the Saville Centre in Edmonton, where top seed and favourite Trinity Western will look to defend their U Sport Men's Volleyball title. Whereas here in Toronto, the University of Alberta Pandas head into the 2017 U Sport Volleyball Championships presented by Jason Rinaldi ranked 1st, looking to take their first U Sport Championship since 2007.
The Pandas Volleyball program, with coach Laurie Eisler (2016-2017 Canada West Coach of the Year) at the helm, is one of the most successful volleyball programs in the country, sitting just behind the UBC Thunderbirds who have claimed an outstanding 10 U Sports Championships. The Pandas, who took home the Canada West Conference title last weekend over UBC, are seeking their 8th U Sport Championship in program history this weekend in Toronto. With a strong season behind them, finishing 22-2 in the regular season, the Pandas feel more prepared then ever to hit the court this weekend.
"We have put in so much work as a team this year, and for the group of us graduating, we have put in 5 years worth of work (as well as all of the club years!) for this weekend. To be rewarded as the best team in U Sport Volleyball is a pretty special accomplishment and is what we strive for every season." Meg Casault, 5th Year Panda and Canada West Player of the Year
As many of us know, the regular season means nothing in playoffs, where anything can happen in a single elimination bracket. No one knows it better than this Pandas squad. In 2015, many of these same athletes took the court in the Championship Final, where a relentless Trinity Western team came back from being down 2 sets, to win their first ever U Sports Championship, a daunting repeat of the Canada West Finals the weekend prior. And again in 2016, the Pandas, who had seemed to bounce back with a strong 2015-2016 season finishing 20-4 in regular season, fell short in Canada West Final Four, failing to reach Nationals for only the 2nd time since 2003.
For three Pandas athletes, including 5th Year Meg Casault, it will be the last chance to claim the U Sports Championship Title. "It would mean the world to me to end my career on a high note and to have that gold medal and that banner at the end of it. I am so proud of the work our team has put in this year in order to prepare us for this weekend. We have learned just how difficult it is to win and that no one is going to give it to us." Meg Casault has had an outstanding career with the Pandas, being named a First Team All-Canadian for the last three consecutive years. This season, Meg broke the Canada West All-Time Conference Kills record, and goes into the 2017 U Sports Championship named the 2017 Canada West Player of the Year.
The No.1 Pandas will face a tough opponent and host, No.8 Ryerson Rams, in their first round Quarter-Finals match-up this Friday at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. This will not be the first time this Pandas squad has had to battle the host in Championship play. At the 2015 Championships, the Pandas ousted the University of Toronto in a 0-2 comeback; the 5 set comeback theme that seemed to ripple through the playoffs that year. "There is always the added challenge of being against the home crowd, but for me, that just fuels me to perform. I would pick a packed gym full of the opponent’s fans any day over an empty one! It will be an exciting environment to be a part of-and is what Nationals is all about; showcasing the best in Canada!"
Come out and watch the 2017 U Sport Women's Volleyball Championship presented by Jason Rinaldi from March 17th-19th at Ryerson University right here in Toronto! Tickets are available for purchase here.
1. Pandas (Canada West champions)
2. McMaster Marauders (OUA champions)
3. UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West finalists)
4. Montreal Carabins (RSEQ Champions)
5. Dalhousie Tigers (AUS Champions)
6. Western Mustangs (OUA finalists)
7. Trinity Western Spartans (Canada West bronze medalists)
8. Ryerson Rams (OUA 4th place/hosts)