Slow to adjust to rejuvenated Cougars, Griffins fall 3-1, settle for weekend split

Hailey Cornelis blasts one off the MRU block on Saturday (Chris Piggott).
Hailey Cornelis blasts one off the MRU block on Saturday (Chris Piggott).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – It was as if the MacEwan Griffins and Mount Royal Cougars switched jerseys for Saturday's rematch.

Everything that worked so well for the Griffins in a 3-0 win on Friday went against them on Saturday as the Cougars dished out their own medicine by the spoonful.

Using quick-hitters in the middle, powerful outside blasts through the block and terrific defence, MRU claimed a 3-1 Canada West women's volleyball win (27-25, 25-18, 18-25, 25-20) to salvage a weekend split.

"They had a great night," said Griffins head coach Ken Briggs. "That's the team I thought we'd see on Friday night. (Head coach Sandra Lamb) made some nice little adjustments and we were slow to adjust. We didn't get the production from our outsides that we had hoped, but in the end, they just played better."

Volleyball is all about execution and the Cougars looked like a totally different team than the one that was swept off the court on Friday.

Their overall attacking percentage was more than .100 per cent higher (.178, up from .074 on Friday), they won the net battle (9.0 stuffed blocks to 8.0) and dug so well you'd think they were using shovels (96 digs to MacEwan's 71).

"Last night, we're Jekyll and Hyde – a completely different team," said Lamb. "So, being able to go out and defend and frustrate them and get the ball back where we can take a good attack is exactly what we tried to do, wanted to do and did execute."

Libero Nataliia Klimenova led the way with 29 digs for the Cougars, while setter Jada Lea kept the Griffins off balance with 47 assists as MRU's power hitters consistently defeated MacEwan's block, which had been so successful a night earlier. Cassidy Kitchen was the most successful of those, leading MRU with 15 kills, 19 digs and two blocks, but their attack was varied, too, as both Alex Donaghy and Chantel Park had 13 kills each.

"Like I said yesterday, we needed to turn our game around and execute, for sure," said Lamb. "Our passing was a lot better, we were able to distribute the ball and Cassidy Kitchen was our go-to and was on fire."

The win improves MRU's record to 8-10 as they remain in the hunt for the final Canada West playoff spot.

 "Really, it's a character-builder, right? We had to make that change," said Lamb. "We had to come back. We needed to show some excitement. We needed to make sure we're putting in a statement. We refused to lose tonight."

That was evident in a first set that could have gone either way. The teams traded points throughout, but MRU got the final two that mattered when Park put down two of her six kills in the set.

Bounces went against MacEwan in the early going as three calls that the officials initially disagreed on were all settled MRU's way. That seemed to fluster the Griffins, who were flat throughout the second set and found themselves trailing 16-10 at the technical timeout after conceding an 8-0 run. They switched setters, swapping out Claire McLoughlin for Kylie Schubert, but couldn't recover.

However, just when it seemed the Cougars would cruise to a sweep, the Griffins hit back, gaining momentum when Shaunessy Hemens was subbed in on the outside. MacEwan's defence showed its mettle and it was MRU committing the critical errors down the stretch in a set that ended when Kitchen's serve went into the net.

"I thought we had some great moments from some kids – Kylie and Shaun both came out there and made a big difference," said Briggs. "I'm really happy for them because that's their role right now. That's the future of this group, so for them to get in there and make a difference shows it's getting there."

MRU got back on track in the fourth set and had a 20-10 lead before MacEwan went on an 8-0 run to make a valiant comeback attempt. Regaining their footing, however, the Cougars recovered to close it out.

"It's women's volleyball," said Lamb. "You never know until someone gets two points ahead of the other to finish off a game. It's up and down all the time. Ken Briggs always has disciplined teams. I love that about them. They just work hard and tonight we were successful. It was a character win."

With the loss, MacEwan falls to 2-14. The Griffins were led by Cassidy Kinsella, who had 15 kills and 12 digs, while McKenna Stevenson had five blocks.

MacEwan will be back at home Jan. 26-27 as they welcome Regina. MRU heads into a bye weekend and will return to action on Feb. 2 at Manitoba.