Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – MacEwan's four graduating seniors saved one of their best games for last on Saturday night.
Clicking on all cylinders, running on belief and riding a strong desire to finish strong, the veterans led the Griffins to a 3-0 thrashing of the visiting Winnipeg Wesmen (25-10, 25-15, 25-21) that was never in doubt from the opening serve.
"We really wanted to end on a really good game, we just wanted to play for each other," said fifth-year Kate Rozendaal, who led the Griffins with 11 kills, including the decisive one that ended the match in the third set from the left side. "We needed to take advantage of the fact that this is a team we can compete with. We wanted to really come out strong."
Fellow fifth-year outside hitter Cassidy Kinsella had 10 kills and 11.0 points to move into second in Canada West all-time career points in her final university match, while setter Claire McLoughlin produced a game-high 32 assists in just three quick sets to finish second in MacEwan's career list for the stat. And libero Karly Edgar had a game-high 20 digs to also finish second all-time digs at MacEwan.
"That's all you can ask for," said Griffins head coach Ken Briggs. "I just felt so good for them. They really spread it out. Kate had a tremendous game. Cassidy only had 10 kills, but they were three sets (and two were) just blowouts. Everybody contributed and did a really nice job.
"They took control of the match from the beginning. That's a young team over there and they kind of panicked a little bit. I can't say enough about our four fifth-years. They went out and they all played well. We looked smooth out there. That made such a big difference for their confidence."
If you blinked at the start of the match, you would have wondered what happened to the Wesmen, who had stretches where they controlled Friday's 3-2 loss to the Griffins. But in the first set on Saturday, they fell behind 8-1 and trailed 16-7 at the technical timeout. They didn't gain from there either, as McLoughlin ended the set with back-to-back service aces.
The second set was more of the same as MacEwan built a commanding 16-6 lead going into the technical timeout. Winnipeg showed some signs of life, going on a 3-0 run to get to 19-11, but then Jessica Friesen served it into the net. More errors sealed Winnipeg's fate and Rozendaal put the game away on MacEwan's fourth set point opportunity by blasting it between the block from the left side.
"We didn't pass all that great in the first two sets, but we were in it," insisted Winnipeg head coach Diane Scott. "The score didn't indicate that, but we were right there with them. It was our unforced errors that were costing us. It wasn't something they were doing so well.
"We've been there many a time this season with the unforced errors granting the opposition a little bit too much of a cushion. So, I was very pleased that we turned that around in the third set and were competing with them. At the end we just lost a couple points that cost us because we were right in there. If we win that third set, it's a whole different match."
Indeed, the Wesmen did play much better in the third set, matching the Griffins point for point and even going on an early 4-0 run to take an 8-6 lead. But MacEwan's seniors just wanted the clutch points more – going on a 5-1 run after a 20-20 tie to win.
Rozendaal smashed down the winning point, defeating a double block from the left side.
"Kudos to Claire," said Rozendaal. "She obviously was trying to do that on purpose, just because I'm the fifth-year player that's on her lineup in that rotation. She was just trying to give me the last ball, which was nice of her. It was sweet. It was nice to do that for the team."
Briggs then gave a speech as each senior was honoured for their career contributions.
"I was really happy for them. It was a nice night for them," he said. "They held it together emotionally really well.
"I found myself not thinking this was the end. I couldn't look at them. I was ready to give the ol' 'I told Mess I wouldn't do this.' I couldn't look at them when I was saying the little speech because it's too emotional for me. Those are special, special girls."
With the result, the Griffins will finish the season 4-20, while the Wesmen close at 1-23.
"Overall, that's a very good team across the net," said Scott. "They had a tough season as well, so for them to get a chance to finish like that, great for them.
"We learned some more lessons. Although it would be been nice to come in here … and get at least a win, it didn't happen, but there's been so many wins this season that weren't on the scoreboard. The future is still very bright for us."