Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With monster rallies and dramatic digs in the first set of Saturday's Canada West women's volleyball match between MacEwan and UBC-Okanagan, it appeared we were in for a classic and epic match that could go the distance.
Instead, after coming back to steal the first set 26-24, the visiting Heat seized the momentum and never let go, rolling to a 3-0 victory (26-24, 25-12, 25-16) at David Atkinson Gymnasium.
"I thought it was our best set of the year – just the defence and the swing (of play)," said MacEwan Griffins head coach Ken Briggs, whose team led 21-18 and 23-22 in the first set but couldn't close the door. "We still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We've done that now several times and you can see it just deflate (the team)."
UBCO head coach Steve Manuel pointed to the play of Skye Thompson and Natalie Livingston as crucial in keeping rallies alive in the first set and swinging momentum in the Heat's favour.
"I'd like to start by saying how much respect I have for Ken and his team and how they play," said Manuel. "They had a great plan coming into it tonight. They really had us on our heels and we got lucky in that first set. We kind of stole it.
"We had two players come off the bench that stood on their head. We had 21 digs in the first set and those two players (Thompson and Livingston) in two-and-a-half rotations had 10 of them. They completely turned around the momentum of the match."
From there, UBCO established their dominance in the middle – going back to 6-foot-5 Aidan Lea and 6-foot-2 Erin Drew repeatedly. They gained an early lead in the second set and made it insurmountable (16-9) by the time the technical timeout rolled around. Lea's kill from the middle ended it in a walk.
"What's impressive is these perennial playoff teams, they have another gear," said Briggs. "You saw when they got a lead in the second set they go for the throat. We need to learn that. We need to keep putting ourselves in these situations.
"I thought we backed down for a while and then we got soft serves again," he added. "We made (Lea) look like a world beater. She's very, very good, but unless we continue to serve tough, you just don't stop that with the size of our block."
UBCO continued their strong play in the third set, as they rolled to an early lead, kept the Griffins in it with some service errors, but finally put it away on Sydney McKinlay's left-side kill.
Lea led the Heat with 13 kills on .579 hitting efficiency, while Drew had 10 kills. Both had two blocks each. Setter Sara McCreary had 39 assists in just three sets.
"It was definitely the difference," Manuel said of his middles. "Sara McCreary, she's a very adventurous setter and not afraid to fire the ball in there.
"As that match went on, it would have got closer and closer in the middle, I believe.," he added. "They were starting to dig us, they were getting big touches.
"But hat's off to my team. They played really well this weekend and I'm really happy with that."
Ultimately, they were undone by some sloppy passing and an inability to slow the Heat's momentum train in the middle.
"I'm not disappointed with this weekend," said Briggs. "I don't like losing constantly, but we're learning some good things. There's a lot of positives there, it's just frustrating (to lose).
"We still have our weaknesses, but we've got some great things to build on here," added Briggs, singling out the play of third-year outside hitter Hailey Cornelis, who had nine digs, including many crucial ones in the first set. "We've just got to weather this first semester. It would be nice to sneak out something, but you just hope that these lessons are valuable."
With the result, the Griffins fall to 0-6 on the campaign, while the Heat improves to 6-2. Next up for MacEwan is a visit to Manitoba on Nov. 17-18, while UBCO is on a bye before returning to action on Nov. 24-25 vs. Regina.