Uncharacteristic errors hamper Griffins in loss to Heat that prevents them from clinching sixth place

Mariah Bereziuk led the Griffins with 14 kills, four aces, 17 digs, six blocks and a match-high 22.5 points (Eduardo Perez photo).
Mariah Bereziuk led the Griffins with 14 kills, four aces, 17 digs, six blocks and a match-high 22.5 points (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jason Hills 
For MacEwan Athletics 
EDMONTON – Every team wants to be running on full cylinders as the playoffs approach, and right now, the MacEwan Griffins aren't quite in fifth gear. 

The Griffins lost in four sets (27-29, 26-24, 23-25, 18-25) to the UBCO Heat on Friday night at the David Atkinson Gym. 

Had they managed to even get the match to five sets, the Griffins would have clinched sixth place in the Canada West standings, but now Saturday's rematch between the teams will determine that. The Griffins will finish sixth if they win or lose in five sets; the Heat will move ahead of them if not.

With the result, MacEwan fell to 11-12 this season, while UBCO improved to 10-13, officially clinching a playoff spot. 

Mariah Bereziuk led the Griffins with 14 kills and 17 digs, while Alyshia Bryks added 11 kills. Arden Butler was steady with 10 kills and 10 digs, while Payton Shimoda recorded 35 assists and three kills in the loss for MacEwan. 

Amaya Perry led UBCO with 15 kills and 15 digs and Natalie Funk recorded 10 kills and two aces in the victory. 

"(The game) had the intensity of a playoff battle, but in the playoffs you can't make that many mental errors and get away with it. That was very evident tonight," said Griffins head coach Chris Wandler. 

"That was uncharacteristic of us, and we need to clean that up tomorrow. It comes down to lack of focus and not taking care of business, and we just need to be better tomorrow."  

MacEwan and UBCO had an epic opening set. The score was tied 22 times and the lead changed hands nine different times, but despite having UBCO on the brink of set point twice, MacEwan let it slip away. 

After that opening set loss, the Griffins controlled most of the first half of the second set, but then UBCO took over and went on a strong run, led by back-to-back aces from Madison Gardner. 

UBCO took a 19-13 lead on the strength of another ace, this time by Natalie Funk, and the Griffins were in a hole, but they dug in and chipped away. 

A kill from Bereziuk and a service ace from Madison Hoppus cut UBCO's lead to 22-19. A kill and a block from captain Sarah McGee gave the Griffins a 25-24 lead, and then an ace from Butler earned MacEwan the second set win. 

"I liked our transition. I liked how we served the ball at times. I liked a lot of things; but volleyball needs to be played at high levels consistently, and we were too up and down tonight. Individually and collectively," said Wandler.  

In the third set, the Griffins didn't have a large margin for error throughout a good portion of the set, and they held leads multiple times in the late stages but weren't able to close it out. 

An ace from Ella Black gave MacEwan a 21-19 lead and a kill from Butler gave the Griffins a 23-22 lead, but UBCO rallied. 

In the fourth set, MacEwan and UBCO were tied 11-11, and then the Heat turned it up a notch and went on an 8-1 run to break it open and win the match. 

"We were just 75 per cent today," said Wandler. 

"We had opportunities to win that third set, and we weren't mentally clear and that was the difference in that one. When you make too many errors and you let teams get ahead of you, there's too much work to be done. 

"You got to play too perfect, and we're not that style of team and we can't afford to do that." 

Arden Butler hits in front of a large crowd at the David Atkinson Gym on Friday (Eduardo Perez photo).

With the playoffs on the horizon, the Griffins will no doubt want to finish off strong on Saturday and try to end the regular season on a winning note. 

"We struggled to get into a rhythm tonight in our passing and defensively, and it just carried over into our attacking," said Shimoda. 

"Our focus tomorrow needs to be on our decision making. We call it green light, yellow light, red light and it's based on the set and the pass. In those moments, we need to be smarter with our shots and not just try to overpower them." 

MacEwan and UBCO will wrap up their regular season on Saturday (4:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).