Griffins unable to close out WolfPack, who rally for 3-2 victory in key battle for home-court advantage

Lauren Holmes blasts one of her game-high 17 kills past the Thompson Rivers University block on Friday, but the Griffins lost 3-2 (Eduardo Perez photo).
Lauren Holmes blasts one of her game-high 17 kills past the Thompson Rivers University block on Friday, but the Griffins lost 3-2 (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins had multiple chances to put the Thompson Rivers WolfPack away in Canada West women's volleyball action on Friday night.

But the visitors engineered a great escape that included narrowly avoiding getting swept, dodging a match point in the fourth set and somehow wriggling out of a 13-11 hole in the fifth to rally from two sets down and stun the Griffins 3-2 (17-25, 23-25, 25-22, 26-24, 15-13).

Thompson Rivers' victory could very well factor into home-court advantage in the opening round of the Canada West playoffs as they move to 16-5 and knock MacEwan back to 16-7.

"Either way, home court or not home court for either of our teams, it's a good trial run for playoffs because we could meet each other or could meet a team of similar level because of where we are in the standings," explained TRU head coach Chad Grimm. "I think without having the exact implications of playoffs, it's good to be in those pressure situations where both teams face match point and play with some things that are going to be felt in playoffs."

If that was a test of how a team will react under pressure, the Griffins will have to hope they got it out of their system. They've been solid all year in closing out tight matches, but they let TRU up off the mat on Friday.

"We controlled the whole match but just made too many mistakes," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "We didn't put the ball on the floor in the end when we needed to in both those sets. It's disappointing.

"All the sets were nice and tight, but I thought we controlled the whole match. I just thought we made some bad decisions."

MacEwan broke open a close first set after the technical timeout, finishing on a 9-2 run, punctuated by Haley Gilfillan's set-winning kill. The Griffins outhit the WolfPack .412 to .241 in the opening set but couldn't find that kind of efficiency later on.

Still, they managed to take the key points in Set 2, which was close all the way through until Mckenna Stevenson blasted one off the block and out to end it.

In Set 3, MacEwan was tied with TRU 22-22 and seemed a whisper away from ending the night in straight sets. But the WolfPack dug deep, taking the final three points, including Avery Pottle's tip to the back line on set point.

"We've actually struggled on Friday nights and we saw that again tonight," said Grimm. "I don't think it was the prettiest match. I thought it was gritty on both sides, I thought it was tough.

"They controlled the match early. We made a bit of a pushback and got a little bit better at cleaning up some of their tips and gave ourselves a chance."

MacEwan raced out of the gates in Set 4 to an 8-2 lead in a strong response to the fact the match was still going, but TRU instantly rattled off a 6-0 run and never let them get away again. As the teams traded tooth-and-nail points, the Griffins landed a match point opportunity up 24-23, but TRU came up with back-to-back blocks and rallied to stay alive on Kseniya Kocyigit's kill.

TRU overcame back-to-back attacking errors to put them down 13-11 in the fifth set by rattling off four-straight points to close out the match.

"That's what pressure does," said Briggs. "Their best hitter puts three out of bounds and we don't take advantage of that. That's where you go 'OK, are we making the right decisions?'

"This is a real 50-50 for me. I'm really happy that we can control a match against a good team like that at this time of year. Now we've just got to execute a little bit better in certain situations."

Olga Savenchuk led the WolfPack with 15 kills and 20 digs, while Kocyigit had 11 kills, five aces and four blocks.

Lauren Holmes led MacEwan with 17 kills and 13 digs, while Gilfillan had 16 kills and five blocks.

The teams will meet in the rematch on Saturday (5 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).