Griffins gain momentum for playoffs, clinch sixth place with 3-0 win over Heat in season finale

Griffins players celebrate after Sarah McGee's kill put the finishing touches on a straight sets win over UBC Okanagan on Saturday (Eduardo Perez photo).
Griffins players celebrate after Sarah McGee's kill put the finishing touches on a straight sets win over UBC Okanagan on Saturday (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The night began as the battle for sixth place in the Canada West standings.

But it ended with a much more important accomplishment for the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team.

Yes, they earned sixth with a 3-0 victory over the UBC Okanagan Heat (27-25, 25-21, 25-22), but more importantly they stopped a five-game losing streak and finished the regular season with exactly the type of triumph they wanted to springboard into the post-season.

"Momentum into the playoffs, that's what that means," said MacEwan head coach Chris Wandler. "We wanted to end off with a positive feeling going into playoffs, and we played a lot better than last night."

After losing 3-1 to UBCO on Friday in an error-filled contest, the Griffins were sharp, focused and unfazed by some close set scores on Saturday – exactly what a team needs to be like in the playoffs.

"UBCO's a good team , so playing those two-point sets, I think it's important that we won in three," said Sarah McGee, who punctuated the victory with back-to-back points – a block and a kill to end Set 3.

"In the past I think we were waiting for teams to let us win versus now we're just digging our claws in and going after it."

MacEwan finishes the season at .500 with the victory (12-12), dropping the Heat to 10-14. They actually clinched sixth after going up 2-0 in the match as even if the Heat rallied back to win, the loser point for making it to five sets would have been enough for the Griffins to win the tiebreaker.

"It's good prep for us going into playoffs next week, so we're happy to have clinched sixth," said Mariah Bereziuk, who finished the night with a team-leading 12 kills, giving her 316 for the season – third in Canada West. 

Both Bereziuk and McGee were feted in a pre-game Senior Day ceremony as they were playing in their final regular season match. 

McGee finished with six kills and six blocks, including stuffing Natalie Funk on a huge point late in Set 3 to put the Griffins up 24-22.

"I really wanted to block her," said McGee. "She's good. They're a good team, so it makes it even sweeter when you block somebody who's a good hitter. It felt good. I was visualizing it right before, 'I'm going to block her, I'm going to block her,' so it felt good."

Bereziuk, who was held to her second-lowest attacking efficiency of the season (.042) in Friday's loss, was again the focus of the Heat defence, but she just kept swinging through the adversity. She finished with a .103 percentage, but came up clutch when needed most, including kills that put MacEwan up 23-18 and 24-20 in Set 2.

"I think watching the game from last night, I had to learn different shots and change up my shots throughout the game," she said. "I put in some slower stuff, just to keep them on their toes."

UBCO was led by Olivia Tymkiw, who had eight kills, five digs and three blocks, while Abigail Dueck had 28 assists, four aces and six digs.

Besides Bereziuk and McGee, the Griffins' attack was flourishing off the play of Arden Butler, who recorded 11 kills on a .364, along with an ace and 10 digs. Payton Shimoda finished with 34 assists.

Shimoda had a hand in ending a marathon Set 1 in MacEwan's favour as she sent in a great serve on the Griffins' second set point opportunity, had a clutch dig off the ensuing smash from UBCO, setting up Alyshia Bryks' winning kill.

MacEwan seized control of the second set midway through with Butler at the service line before Bereziuk stemmed a Heat rally and the set ended on a UBCO service error.

The Heat raced out to a 5-0 lead in the third set, but MacEwan simply hit right back, closing to 6-5 down. With the match dead even as they went past 20, Butler smashed it through the block for a massive kill to put MacEwan up 23-22 before McGee's heroics finished it off.

"We had too many errors last night, so that was our issue," said Wandler. "We had to clean up that part. Now we're going to celebrate a little bit tonight. Making playoffs was our first goal. Now we'll see what the rest brings."

MacEwan will travel to Abbotsford, B.C. meet No. 3 seed UFV (20-4) next weekend in a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series.

SPIN SERVES … Sarah McGee broke the program record for the best hitting percentage by a Griffin in a Canada West season, finishing with .347, topping Haley Gilfillan's .317 from 2019-20 … Payton Shimodafinished with 776 assists, which is the second-most by a Griffins setter in a Canada West season, just behind Kylie Schubert (782 in 2019-20) … She broke Schubert's record for best assists/set mark in the program's CW history, though, finishing at 9.70 (Schubert had a 9.31 mark in 2019-20) … Mariah Bereziuk broke a program record for the best points/set average in a Canada West season, finishing at 4.7, ahead of Cassidy Kinsella's previous high watermark of 4.6 in 2016-17.

 Mariah Bereziuk poses with the Griffins coaching staff during Saturday's Senior Day celebration (Eduardo Perez photo).

Sarah McGee poses with the Griffins coaching staff during Saturday's Senior Day celebration (Eduardo Perez photo).