Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
-With files from MRU Athletics
CALGARY – After taking the first two sets, the MacEwan Griffins seemed on their way to a season-opening win over the Mount Royal University Cougars on Friday night.
But they just couldn't get the third one – preached by coaches everywhere as the toughest set to secure on any given night – and fell 3-2 to the rallying Cougars (20-25, 24-26, 25-20, 26-24, 15-13).
"Been there before and done that," lamented MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs of another tough loss to MRU, who have had MacEwan's number in recent seasons.
"They made a couple of changes and substitutions and then in the last couple of sets we lost by two," he noted. "They just out-gritted us.
"We played really well, and they played really well. We had them at the beginning, and you can see from the scores they're really close. We gave them a couple of big leads in the fourth and fifth set. We kept coming back but just didn't finish."
McKenna Stevenson kicked off her senior season with a gem, leading the Griffins with 18 kills on .405 hitting efficiency, adding seven blocks and accounting for 24.0 points. Rachel Jorvina led the way on defence with 15 digs.
"McKenna had 18 kills and seven blocks. You can't beat that," said Briggs. "I thought McKenna and Rachel (Jorvina) were our best players. Rachel played really well defensively and passed really well on serve receive, which is tough in this gym. Those two were outstanding.
"We had good performances from a lot of people, but a few too many mistakes at the wrong time. That's what this game's about."
The Cougars' comeback was ignited by third-year outside hitter Haley Roe, who entered the game after the first set and changed the momentum. She finished with eight kills and three service aces, while Madison Marshall and Carly Davies led the Cougars with 13 kills each.
MacEwan was tied 11-11 with MRU in the fifth set but were undone by some untimely late errors. It's a painful way to lose, but the team was already regrouping post-game.
"That's the thing. I came back to the room and they were already talking about it," said Briggs. "They already know what to do and the message we're giving them is this is what our whole year's going to be like. Every weekend, every match is going to be like this.
"So, we have to be prepared to battle. We had a few passengers at different times, and we had a couple of outstanding peformances. That's the way it's going to be all year."
They'll regroup for Saturday's rematch against MRU (7 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op).