Griffins come up short in lengthy defensive battle with Regina Cougars

Haley Gilfillan tries to get one through the Regina block on Friday night (Chris Piggott photo).
Haley Gilfillan tries to get one through the Regina block on Friday night (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Taylor Ungar broke her own Canada West digs record with 40 of them as the Regina Cougars showed a superior fortitude in the fifth set to shade the MacEwan Griffins 3-2 (20-25, 25-23, 25-22, 19-25, 15-11) in Canada West women's volleyball action on Friday night.

MacEwan were no slouches in the defensive department either as Zoe Cronin led them into the epic defensive battle with 37 digs (third-best all-time in Canada West), helping extend the match to nearly two-and-a-half hours long as the squads combined for 207 total digs.

"We knew that we were going to have to have a lot of patience in this match with MacEwan," said Regina head coach Melanie Sanford. "They dig a lot of balls.

"We were in and out with that throughout the match, but I think once we got into the fifth set, our confidence kind of came up," she added. "I thought we served well and we figured it out. We got about a three or four-point spread, which maybe helped us relax a little bit. We just needed to side out. I thought the team did really well."

Regina gained a three-point advantage on the backs of some MacEwan miscues midway through the fifth set and never let up with some good defence and resolve to close out their 10th win of the campaign, bolstering their playoff chances at 10-9.

"Both our left sides had a pretty good night tonight (Ashlee Sandford with 20 kills and Jessica Lerminiaux with 14)," said Sanford. "We prepared all week for Grant MacEwan because they're a very good team. We came in and knew the shots we were going to have to make to break their defence. At times we were good doing that. Other times we weren't so good.

"We hung in there. Essentially that's what it was."

Despite some epic rallies, though, MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs was about as displeased with squad's effort as he's ever been in this disappointing 2-15 season.

"I didn't think we were emotionally engaged from the beginning," he said. "We had a little spurt in there. They dictated the pace of the game and we picked it up a little bit. I thought we got it going.

"We just made way too many fundamental mistakes when it was important. It's the first time (this season) I've been disappointed.

"There's no excuse," he continued. "That was the first time since the first semester that we snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. I'm trying to stay positive. We did a lot of good things, but wow."

Things got off on the right foot for the Griffins, who opened up a late lead in Set 1 and closed it out on the trot with a Lauren Holmes kill.

The Griffins had a glorious chance to put the hammer down and gain a 2-0 lead, but they let a 19-15 advantage slip away on a 5-0 serving run by Jessica Lerminiaux and lost it when sub Rachel Jorvina's serve went wide.

MacEwan wasn't able to block Regina's big hitters enough in Set 3 as they fell behind after the technical timeout and never could catch up. The set ended when Sandiford, who had been blocked in the middle on her previous attempt, made good on a do-over, putting it off the fingertips and over the Griffins' defence.

The Griffins' wrested control of the match back in the fourth with authority, ripping to a 20-10 advantage. Shades of a 20-10 set advantage they blew at Saskatchewan earlier this month may have crept into their thoughts as Regina fought back. But the home side overcame that mental hurdle by closing it out off Hailey Cornelis' blast.

Cassidy Kinsella led the Griffins with 20 kills, Lauren Holmes had 11 and Cornelis added 10.

"I thought (Cornelis) was spectacular," said Briggs. "That might have been one of her best matches ever. Cass, she scored 20. Our outsides finally started scoring, but we had too many passengers tonight at different times.

"I'm just disappointed about the emotional investment into this match. You don't let a visiting team come in and dictate the pace of the game."

Regina setter Satomi Togawa had a game-high 45 assists, while Claire McLoughlin had 42 for MacEwan.

The teams will meet again on Saturday night (5 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).