Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Led by a dominant performance from middles Aidan Lea and Erin Drew, the UBC-Okanagan Heat found a gear midway through Friday's Canada West women's volleyball tilt that the MacEwan Griffins couldn't match.
They cruised to big leads in both of the final two sets, turning a tie match into a 3-1 victory (25-21, 23-25, 25-11, 25-16).
Lea, towering over the court at 6-foot-5 had 16 kills and .500 hitting efficiency, while Drew, 6-2, chipped in 10 kills on .714 accuracy, while adding a game-high seven blocks.
"We've got lots of experience in the middle, and we've good ball control for the most part and a very adventurous setter," said Heat head coach Steve Manuel of reigning Canada West all-star setter Sara McCreary, who had a game-high 45 assists in the match. "She's not afraid to feed the middle and when those two get going they're hard to stop, for sure.
"They've been in lots of those situations, so they're a handful, no question."
MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs felt the Griffins actually held their own in the middle – Haley Gilfillan had eight kills on .500 efficiency, while McKenna Stevenson led the team with five blocks. But the Heat height is a tall order over the course of an entire match.
"I'm sorry, there is no defence for 6-5," he said. "We're in the right spots and she's just going to hit over us. I thought for the most part our middles played really well with what we gave them.
"That's the biggest block we'll see all year and it wasn't that bad," he added. "We've always blocked pretty even with every team. There's a lot of positives, but we've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot."
That would on serve-receive. The Griffins struggled with the Heat's serves all evening as whatever English they were putting on the ball caused numerous pass disruptions. Led by Drew (three aces) and McCreary (two) UBCO finished with 10 on the night.
"It's been something that we've obviously been working on, trying to throw some variety," said Manuel. "We've got a fairly physical front row for the most part, so if we can put teams in a bit trouble off the serve-receive, it gives us a great opportunity to use our block and our defence to be able to score some points."
The Griffins had trouble passing early in the first set and fell behind 6-0, but it was just the opening act in a first set of wild momentum swings. MacEwan clawed back within one midway through, only to give up six-straight points coming out of the technical timeout to trail by eight. After a late charge by the Griffins, an attacking error allowed the Heat to wrap it up.
The second set was far more even-keeled with neither team breaking away from one another until the end when errors compounded for the Heat, including an attack miss on set point, allowing the Griffins to tie up the match.
From there, though, the Heat roared to the finish, charging to an insurmountable 20-6 lead in the third set that they closed out on Sydney McKinlay's kill.
And they did much of the same in the fourth, going up 12-2, staving off a Griffins rally and winning it on a tip kill by Ann Richards – her game-high 17th of the match.
"We make a bad pass and then compound it with errors," said Briggs of the last two sets. "To their credit we didn't just roll over. It was still a battle. They had to play hard until the end.
"It's just disappointing that we have to keep relearning those lessons over and over again every week. But I don't want us to panic yet. It's the fifth game. We've still got 19 more and there's a lot of positives."
Cassidy Kinsella led the Griffins with 13 kills and 16 digs on .278 hitting efficiency.
With the result, the Griffins fall to 0-5 on the season, while the Heat improve to 5-2. The teams will meet again on Saturday night (5 p.m., Atkinson Gym).