Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With chances becoming increasingly likely that they'll meet in the opening round of the Canada West women's volleyball playoffs, the MacEwan Griffins landed an important counter punch on the Thompson Rivers WolfPack with a straight-sets victory on Saturday night.
In handing TRU its first loss on a Saturday this season – a 25-20, 25-22, 25-19 result – the Griffins showed a solid response after Friday night's match between the teams saw them blow a 2-0 lead and lose 3-2.
"We all kind of talked about how our Saturday prep needs to be different because Thompson has a really good reputation for being a good Saturday night team," said MacEwan's Mckenna Stevenson, who was feted following the game along with fellow graduating seniors Lauren Holmes, Haley Gilfillan and Hailey Cornelis.
"We all kind of knew that we had to come in mentally strong and engaged the whole time. You can't make a lot of mistakes against this team because they're going to come back. That's exactly what we did. We usually talk about how we're not a very good Saturday night team, but tonight we proved that we are."
Both Stevenson and Holmes had 11 kills apiece to pace the Griffins, while Carly Weber added nine and Gilfillan had six blocks, including combining with Cornelis to stuff Olga Savenchuk on match point.
"(We came in) determined and our preparation was we knew it was going to be tight – they're going to go ahead, we're going to go ahead," noted Griffins head coach Ken Briggs. "It's really what we talk about all year, but tonight I thought they did a really good job (of thinking) 'next point.' "
Avery Pottle led TRU with eight kills, while Savenchuk and Kseniya Kocyigit had seven apiece. But the WolfPack were outblocked 10-5 and had a combined hitting percentage of .096 to MacEwan's .216.
"We need to be better," said TRU head coach Chad Grimm. "I think they came out more determined than we did. I thought we let some things slide. I didn't think our discipline was good early in the match. We gave up some free points with some sloppiness in our blocking defence. And when you give up a couple free points to a good team it puts you under the gun.
"We seemed to be playing from behind the whole match. They would go out to a lead, we would close the gap or even get a little bit ahead, but that takes a lot of energy out of you to constantly be that team that's chasing. It obviously caught up to us."
With the result, MacEwan finishes the regular season with a 17-7 record. Facing a bye next weekend to rest up for the Feb. 20-23 conference quarter-finals, they are leaders in the clubhouse for one of the top-four positions.
They'll watch intently what will happen in Kamloops, B.C. when TRU (16-6) hosts U SPORTS No. 1 Trinity Western (20-2). The WolfPack will need to win at least one of the Feb. 14-15 matches to have a chance of hosting the first round.
"I think the chances are really high we'll see (MacEwan) here or at our place," said Grimm. "Obviously, we have Trinity – the No. 1 team in the conference and the country. So that will be a really good test.
"We're going to have to have two focused nights in a row, which is what you have to do in playoffs, so it's good prep for us going into a playoff series potentially back here."
Should the WolfPack win one to finish tied with the Griffins in the standings, the sets-won, sets-lost tiebreaker would be employed to determine what would likely be the 4-5 playoff match. Unlike a year ago, however, when MacEwan was burned by it to miss the playoffs on the wrong end of a three-way tie, their waiting game is much more comfortable this time.
"In the end, I really think it will come down to the two of us," said Briggs. "Now, who's going to host? That puts pressure back on them that they have to win solid next weekend.
"It's fun to be in there, now we just sit back and wait. The good thing is we're not sitting back waiting for the three-way tie."