Solid serving, great defence leads Griffins to 3-1 win and weekend sweep over Huskies

Hailey Cornelis hammers one from the left side for the Griffins on Saturday. She and Janna Ogle, #1 background, came up big for MacEwan in a 3-1 win (Eduardo Perez photo).
Hailey Cornelis hammers one from the left side for the Griffins on Saturday. She and Janna Ogle, #1 background, came up big for MacEwan in a 3-1 win (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – His team reeling from a 6-1 fourth-set Saskatchewan run to 21-16 that made it seem likely Saturday's Canada West women's volleyball match was going the distance, MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs called a timeout.

He might want to bottle what was said and sell the elusive elixir for millions.

The Griffins charged out of that break and closed on a 9-1 run to take the set 25-22 and claim the match 3-1 (25-16, 20-25, 25-20, 25-22), earning a huge weekend sweep of the visiting Huskies.

And it was Janna Ogle, who came back from major shoulder surgery to join the Griffins this season after a 1,006-day hiatus from Canada West competition, in the driver's seat at the end. The veteran outside hitter, who formerly played for the Calgary Dinos, closed the game with three-straight service aces.

"I kind of pride myself in having a consistent serve. I knew all we needed was consistency," said Ogle. "I didn't need to go out there and bang it to get aces – just serve it to my target and get it in. It came off my hand really nice and ended up going my way."

So, MacEwan improves to 4-2 on the season, while dropping Saskatchewan to 2-2 after a pair of statement victories from a program that has yet to qualify for the post-season since joining Canada West in 2014. But things are different in 2018-19.

"(The wins are) huge just to prove to everyone that we're not the team we were last year," said Ogle. "We've kind of thrown that year away and restarted.

"The message from (head coach) Ken (Briggs) has always been trust the process. I think coming out from Manitoba (two losses last weekend), we had a really good conversation about 'what are we trying to accomplish this year?'

"We all want to go to playoffs and we're going to need to get sweeps to get to playoffs."

Ogle led the Griffins with four aces, while adding 10 kills, four blocks and 13 digs. Hailey Cornelis, was strong from the other side, with 11 kills and 15 digs, while McKenna Stevenson had 10 kills from the middle for the second-straight match, adding a game-high seven blocks.

"Janna, that's two nights in a row that she's been the fire that we needed," said Briggs. "I bug her about that because she said she was going to bring that. She came up big going back to serve three aces and finish the game.

"Our serving was excellent two nights in a row," added Briggs of 10 total aces. "I thought we played great defence. Even when we were struggling, we were digging balls and giving ourselves a chance."

In fact, that might have been the difference in the game. There were plenty of times the Huskies had the Griffins on the ropes, forcing them into scrambles and long points. But the effort from MacEwan's defence, which combined for 76 digs and 12.0 blocks was tooth and nail. Multiple times, they sent a free ball over to the Huskies, who missed opportunities to put it away and saw crucial points go to the Griffins.

"That's the tough thing – they're giving us some easy balls and we're turning around and not scoring a point," said Huskies head coach Mark Dodds. "Ultimately, those are the easy times of the game, the times you feel like you should execute, and we didn't today.

"On that note, I've got to give a lot of credit to MacEwan because their defence was as scrappy as it gets. They probably had 15 one-handed digs on hard-hit balls. You just don't see that every day. It was fun to watch in a sense, but very, very frustrating to watch at the same time."

Dodds' squad doubled down on the late-match disappointment by losing commanding leads in both fourth sets over the weekend. That's left a bad taste in their mouths, for sure, as they head home to prepare to host Calgary on Nov. 9-10.

"I'm pretty frustrated right now," said Dodds. "We've gotten ourselves into a mindset right now that's tough to get out of. Essentially, when you get those thoughts going through your mind – that fear a little bit, that pressure, you can see the result you had out there tonight.

"It's tough because that's my fault," he added. "In preparation, whatever we did, we didn't prepare well enough to play against a team that was going to play at that level. So, I've got to go back and look at what we did and how we did it and figure out how to do it differently."

MacEwan will be coming into next week's matches against cross-town rival Alberta (Nov. 9-10, Saville Centre) with a lot of confidence.

"Credit to (the players) because we didn't have this gear at other times," said Briggs. "It's coming and once you have the power of confidence – just to believe in themselves – it's pretty good."