Kinsella moves into third in Canada West career kills, points as Griffins push No. 3 Dinos

Cassidy Kinsella (13) and McKenna Stevenson (11) block Regina's Haley Wagar during a match last month. Against Calgary on Friday, Kinsella had 21 kills and 22.5 points to move into third on the Canada West career list in both categories (Chris Piggott photo).
Cassidy Kinsella (13) and McKenna Stevenson (11) block Regina's Haley Wagar during a match last month. Against Calgary on Friday, Kinsella had 21 kills and 22.5 points to move into third on the Canada West career list in both categories (Chris Piggott photo).

MacEwan Athletics and Dinos Athletics

CALGARY – ln one of their finest performances of the season, the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team gave the No. 3 team in the country – the Calgary Dinos – all they could handle in front of a raucous 1000+ fans at School Day in the Jack Simpson Gym on Friday morning/afternoon.

MacEwan easily won the first set and looked to be on the way to an upset until the Dinos found their footing and escaped with a 3-1 victory (18-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-20).

"It was one of the best matches of the year," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "It deserved to go five. It was a great match."

The Griffins looked like they would force a fifth set, up 20-18 in the fourth, only to concede a devastating 7-0 run to lose. With the result, the Dinos improve to 18-3 on the season, while the Griffins fall to 2-19.

"Once it would be nice to pull it off, but we played well. I can't say enough about that," said Briggs, whose team has experienced a run of heartbreaking losses this season as long as a marathon.

"It's just another notch in our storied year where we played good (but lost)."

Fifth-year senior Cassidy Kinsella led the Griffins with a match-high 21 kills and 22.5 points – a monster performance that moves her into third in both the Canada West career list for kills (1243) and points (1424.5). With three matches left in her university career, Kinsella is likely to finish second in conference career kills, trailing former Alberta Panda Tawana Wardlaw by just 11. In the career points category, she trails Wardlaw by 48.5 for second place.

Haley Gilfillan also had a very strong game for the Griffins on Friday with 12 kills and just one error (.579 hitting percentage) in the middle, adding six blocks.

Pexman led the Dinos with 18 kills as she and Kinsella – both stars in Canada West – traded big shots all game.

"They had about the same amount of swings and they both had excellent games," said Briggs. "That's what you expect from each team's good hitter.

"To have someone else like Haley score that many in the middle against two of the best middles in the league … and how we blocked them, you know what, I can't ask for anything more except a result."

The University of Calgary invited hundreds of school kids in for the match and gave them thunder sticks, which resulted in an atmosphere that would rival jets landing at an airport.

"In that first set, it was very loud, and the energy was extremely high; it was great to be a part of such dynamism from the crowd, but it is not an environment we ever played in," Calgary bench boss Natalie Gurnsey told Dinos Communications.

"This challenged us to change the way we communicated – how loudly and frequently we had to say things, which made it extremely beneficial for us to have to play in such an atmosphere."

Early in the match, MacEwan handled the atmosphere better, perhaps drawing on a similar experience they had playing in front of hundreds of kids at UBC earlier this season.

"They responded really well," said Briggs. "They didn't feel disconnected at any time. And it was tough because you couldn't hear a metre away. You had to lean over and talk.

"I'm really proud of how focused they stayed. They stayed connected to the game plan."

That worked to rack up the points in the first set as The Griffins jumped out of the gates with the opening four points and never trailed, ending it at 25-18 when Rachel Jorvina's serve tipped off the top of the net and onto the floor for an ace.

The Griffins held the momentum, taking the first three points of the second set, but Calgary stabilized, tied the match and then took advantage of some MacEwan miscommunications and passing errors to pull away, ending it 25-18 off a kill by Kate Pexman.

That shift in momentum continued into the third set when the Dinos bolted out to a 7-0 lead, capitalizing on plays by Laura McManes, Amber Adolf and Beth Vinnell. MacEwan battled back to come within two points at 19-17 and 21-20, but Calgary would not let them come any closer. An attack error by Hailey Cornelis captured the set point for Calgary, 25-21.

Determined to push the match the distance, the Griffins gained an early advantage in the fourth set and weathered a Dinos comeback to take a 19-16 lead off Kate Rozendaal and Lauren Holmes kills. But then a tidal wave of Dinos momentum hit them – a 9-1 run off some of their own attacking errors and a kill by McManes – as the match ended too quickly.

A moral victory for the Griffins again.

"You look at the stats, how even they were," said Briggs. "The hitting percentage for both teams was really good. Our blocks were eight to eight and a half. We had more kills than probably one of the best offences in the league."

The Griffins will be aiming for a splite in the rematch on Saturday (12 p.m., Canada West TV).