Griffins grind out five-setter over scrappy Heat to hold serve in battle for playoff home court

Griffins players celebrate a point in Friday's 3-1 win over the UBC-Okanagan Heat. They completed a weekend sweep with a 3-2 triumph on Saturday (Cary Mellon, UBCO Heat photo).
Griffins players celebrate a point in Friday's 3-1 win over the UBC-Okanagan Heat. They completed a weekend sweep with a 3-2 triumph on Saturday (Cary Mellon, UBCO Heat photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

KELOWNA, B.C. – The entirety of #GriffNation breathed a sigh of relief when Amaya Perry's attack went wide, giving the MacEwan Griffins a 16-14 fifth-set win and 3-2 match victory over the scrappy UBC-Okanagan Heat on Saturday night.

It was an escape for a Griffins team that didn't have its top level on this night, but still managed to grit out a 14-25, 25-19, 25-12, 24-26, 16-14 win and hold serve in the battle for home-court advantage in the Canada West women's volleyball playoffs.

"This makes up for the last three or four years of pain," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs of the team's continued ability this season to win close matches they used to drop. "We would have done what they did. We would have battled (so hard) and (the opponent) would do something really good to finish the game off. Now we're doing that.

"You wait for this cycle to come around and I'm really proud of them. I almost tell you every weekend, they believe they can do it."

With the result, the Griffins improve to 16-6, moving past idle Thompson Rivers University (15-5) – their opponent in next weekend's regular season finale – for third place in the standings. Alberta (14-6), with two games in hand, kept pace with both of them after a weekend sweep of Calgary.

"That's two weekends in a row we've had to grind it out," said Briggs, referring to a hard-working sweep of Winnipeg last weekend. "UBCO really brought it tonight and that made us that much better."

The Heat entered the weekend needing a sweep to pull even with Winnipeg for the final playoff spot. After MacEwan comfortably won 3-1 on Friday, UBCO brought the level up on Saturday and nearly pulled off the upset.

Through the first three sets, the match pretty much mirrored the exact script as Friday when UBCO handed MacEwan a lopsided opening set loss before the Griffins rattled off three easy set victories to take it.

That is until the fourth set. UBCO reached 20 first on Natalie Livingston's kill to put them up 20-16. Then MacEwan went on a 7-1 run to 23-21 and seemed poised to end the evening. But the home side closed on a 5-1 run to steal it.

"The only part of the night that I wasn't happy with was the fourth set," said Briggs. "We were in total control at the end of it, but just kind of (frittered) it away.

"We came out in the fifth and took control," he continued. "Then it got really tense and we had to fight back. In the end, our girls sort of held it together and 13, 14, 15. You counted on their younger team making a mistake and they did. But it was a good battle."

UBCO's Hellen Lacava served into the net to give MacEwan a 15-14 lead and then Perry missed on an attack from the left side to seal it.

Perry led the Heat with a match-high 19 kills, while Lacava chipped in 11. Both had two of UBCO's match-leading 12 aces.

Haley Gilfillan led the Griffins with 13 kills on .478 hitting percentage, adding seven blocks and three aces to account for a team-high 19.5 points. Hailey Cornelis added 13 kills and Mckenna Stevenson chipped in 12.

"The two middles played really well again," said Briggs of Gilfillan and Stevenson. "At times, Gilf took the game over in the fourth set. That should have ended it right there, but we just made a couple bad decisions.

"Overall, it was OK. It's another match we're just scrapping and learning that they believed they would handle in the end."

The Griffins will host TRU on Feb. 7 (6 p.m.) and Feb. 8 (5 p.m., both games David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).