Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Hailey Cornelis sent an over-bump to the floor and the MacEwan Griffins poured off the bench to celebrate a landmark result on Friday night.
For the first time since joining Canada West in 2014, MacEwan defeated cross-town rival Alberta in a regular season women's volleyball match, taking down the Pandas 3-1 in the David Atkinson Gym (25-20, 23-25, 25-16, 26-24).
"It's really, really big," said Lauren Holmes, who led the Griffins with a match-high 20 kills. "I know a lot of the girls on the other side of the court, so it's always fun playing against them, but we've never been on the winning side of that situation. So, it feels really good.
"This game was really important for us and I'm really glad we pulled through with it."
Over the past five-plus seasons, MacEwan had beaten every other team in the conference at one time or another, but the Pandas were the last ones standing.
"That's the last mountain to climb," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs of their giant-slaying moment. "We've played them tough. They're the most resilient team we've played, I think, every year. You're right down to the nail."
With the win, MacEwan improves to 12-5 in the standings and are inching closer to their next watershed moment – a Canada West playoff spot – something the program has never accomplished. Alberta falls to 9-6.
"One step," said Briggs. "Does that get us into the playoffs? Now that just keeps adding to the secondary goal – how far can we take this?
"I was really proud of everybody because there were times I was going 'what are we doing?' They've become resilient, which is a big step in their maturity."
Alberta had its moments in the match – most notably an impressive 8-0 rally to steal the second set after being down 23-17 – but head coach Laurie Eisler thought they were generally fighting it.
"It was nice, but it didn't fix the problem," she said of the run that tied the match 1-1 at the time. "It was a tough night for us, for sure. It was nice to get rewarded for that nice spurt of solid play on our side, but you've got to back that up with coming back strong in the third. We didn't do that.
"I'm happy the team stuck with it and we kept battling, but we didn't start great. It took a while for us to get things going the way we wanted it to go."
Kory White led the Pandas with 16 kills, while Julia Zonneveld had 12 to go with 13 digs. Libero Janae Eisler had a match-high 25 digs, impressively keeping multiple plays alive for her team.
"Being completely honest, it was all the seams due to our middles," said Holmes. "Their middles were following ours … which left me half the court, so I had a lot of option with that and opportunity. That's what did it for me."
The rivals will meet in the rematch on Saturday (5 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
"The season's long and you're going to have these really challenging matches, especially in an opponent's gym," said Laurie Eisler. "MacEwan played great – maybe the best I've seen them play. That's great for them and we just have to go back and look at the video and learn what we can, take care of our bodies, come back tomorrow and give it another try."