Griffins counter slow start with dominating finish to sweep Wesmen, move to 7-5 at the break

Haley Gilfillan unleashes one from the middle on the Winnipeg defence Saturday. The Griffins were too much for the Wesmen late in the match, rolling to a 3-1 win (Chris Piggott photo).
Haley Gilfillan unleashes one from the middle on the Winnipeg defence Saturday. The Griffins were too much for the Wesmen late in the match, rolling to a 3-1 win (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – In a remarkable transformation from a mistake-prone, fragile state to a team clicking on all cylinders, the MacEwan Griffins rallied from an early 1-0 hole to defeat the Winnipeg Wesmen 3-1 and earn a weekend sweep in Canada West women's volleyball action on Saturday.

The Griffins team that ended the match wouldn't even recognize the one that started it as they claimed an 18-25, 25-21, 25-13, 25-7 victory in their final action before the semester break.

"I think it was mostly mentally we weren't quite engaged – not sticking to our game plan," said Hailey Cornelis, who produced 14 kills and 11 digs for the Griffins. "Then we decided that first set wasn't us, it wasn't how we play. It was a mental switch, I think. (After that) we had a better connection with our setter."

With the result, MacEwan will head into the break at 7-5, while Winnipeg is now 3-9.

"It's huge," said Cornelis. "It's really good for not only our confidence but going in two above (.500) is way better going into our second semester."

Winnipeg was unable to do anything to slow down the Griffins late in the match, but head coach Diane Scott said the wave of momentum started going against them as early as Set 2.

"The horse was out of the barn a long time before that," she said of their seven-point fourth set. "There was a breakdown, they made some adjustments in the second set. They were swinging line and we weren't able to block it at the net or make the dig down the line.

"It's a lesson learned. They're a very good team. They had a lot of attackers, per se, whereas last night they ran more middle. Tonight, they had more success with their outside attackers. We've seen that on video, but it's just a reality.

"We still have lessons to learn and we still have work to do."

Ashleigh Laube and Emma Parker both had eight kills to pace the Wesmen's offence, with Parker and Taylor Boughton each posting four blocks. Madison Fyvie had a game-high 15 digs, but the Wesmen's overall hitting percentage sunk to .095.

For the Griffins, Carly Weber also had 14 kills, Kylie Schubert recorded 41 assists and both Haley Gilfillan and Tess Pearman had seven blocks. Gilfillan added nine kills and four of MacEwan's 11 services aces on the evening.

"We came out and a couple people struggled early," acknowledged MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "We can't match error for error because they got confidence and all of a sudden started running their full offence like we expected on Friday night. We weren't getting them in as much trouble.

"Then, like the first night, our serving got us back in. We went on some serving runs and really forced them out of system a lot. Credit to our serving – 11 aces, that's pretty good."

In the first set, the teams seemed to go toe-to-toe with attacking errors early, but Winnipeg cleaned up their act before MacEwan did and raced to the finish line first. The Wesmen looked particularly strong on defence as they forced the Griffins to unravel under their own mistakes.

"Start was awesome," said Scott. "We did make adjustments and we followed the plan. Maybe they weren't expecting us to have something today after yesterday, but I was really pleased and proud of my group to go for it and come out ready and perform."

The Griffins began to find their finish early in the second set, which enabled them to take control of the match. McKenna Stevenson ran to the right side for a huge kill to send MacEwan into the technical timeout up 16-10 before MacEwan survived a few wobbles in momentum to post the win off a Schubert dump shot.

Set 3 was all MacEwan as they went on a 14-2 run in the middle of it and put it away on their third set point attempt when Winnipeg was called on a double touch.

Remarkably, by the fourth set, the Griffins were in complete control of a match that seemed very much in doubt just an hour earlier. Pearman blocked Parker to put an end to the evening.

"We came out of the third set controlling everything and usually there's a little letdown," said Briggs. "That was my worry. Give them credit. They stayed focused. I had to really be on them because you get caught up celebrating – you're blocking and everything's working.

"It was a really big weekend for people like Carly and Tess, really having to perform (replacing injured starters Janna Ogle and Lauren Holmes). I thought Hailey Cornelis really stepped up with 14 kills and only three errors. That was our goal was eliminating errors," he added. "We're kind of similar to last night, but that was all early. I thought once we got rolling and people made better decisions, people got more comfortable."

Following semester break, Winnipeg will return to action on Jan. 4-5, hosting Saskatchewan. MacEwan will have a bye coming out of the break and will next visit UBC on Jan. 11-12.