Griffins rally for huge 3-2 victory over Thunderbirds that puts them into fourth place

Hailey Cornelis smashes a ball during action against Saskatchewan earlier this season. She came up big for the Griffins on Friday in Vancouver, leading them to a 3-2 win over UBC (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Hailey Cornelis smashes a ball during action against Saskatchewan earlier this season. She came up big for the Griffins on Friday in Vancouver, leading them to a 3-2 win over UBC (Robert Antoniuk photo).

MacEwan Athletics and UBC Athletics

VANCOUVER – Knocking off some early rust after not having played a regular season match until Dec. 1, the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team ground out an impressive rally to defeat the UBC Thunderbirds 3-2 on Friday night.

After losing the first set 25-11, falling behind 10-0 to kick the match off, the Griffins went toe-to-toe with their Canada West rival, winning the match 11-25, 25-20, 19-25, 26-24, 15-11 to most past the Thunderbirds (8-7) into fourth in the standings at 8-5.

"I have to admit having the bye last week and coming into tonight with this being our first game back after the holiday break I was a little concerned about rust," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "UBC is so good once they get rolling, but I'm very happy because we had a few players that struggled tonight and we're really trying to piece together a new lineup here because of injuries and things like that.

"When you can squeak out something in this gym that's pretty awesome. We took advantage of every little thing we could, and I thought our middles played really well to help us grind out a victory."

McKenna Stevenson led the Griffins with an impressive 11 kills with just one error, a solo block and six block assists, Haley Gilfillan totaled five blocks with five kills and Hailey Cornelis had a team-high 13 digs to go with nine kills and two aces.

"We had big performances from a few people that pulled us through," said Briggs. "We weren't spectacular, but we out-blocked a team that is probably on average three inches taller than us. Our two middles did a hell of a job closing."

Cornelis started the match on the left side, but Briggs switched her and Lauren Holmes after the slow start, in an attempt to make up for Janna Ogle's loss to injury. The move paid off as Cornelis was a revelation.

"She really did some good things, not just offensively, but she dug the ball really well and just had a great game when we really needed it in those middle sets," said Briggs.

Kiera Van Ryk finished with a match-high 18 kills for the Thunderbirds and added three aces with nine digs for UBC, while Jayde Robertson put up eight kills with six blocks and two aces. Olivia Furlan earned six aces to go with 12 digs and 35 assists.

"We're extremely disappointed to lose that match so that will take some time to digest," said UBC head coach Doug Reimer. "But the fact is we have to keep playing with passion, we got back on our heels and I felt we were playing not to lose.

"We let them dictate the way they wanted to play. Bottom line – there were too many errors at the wrong time and too many total errors so it's frustrating because you can see our high-end play is very good ... but we need that more often. They got comfortable and confident against us and we didn't adapt well enough to them and they also capitalized on our mistakes."

The T-Birds asserted themselves early and often in the opening set to debut their 2019 campaign, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and carrying a 16-6 advantage into the first technical timeout. MacEwan gained a bit of traction coming out of the break, but the 'Birds earned their first set point at 24-10 and Davis closed it out at 25-11 with her fifth kill.

Van Ryk smacked three straight aces to go up 6-4 early in the second set before the Griffins tied it up at 6-6 and took the lead on a UBC miscue at 7-6. The Griffins then took advantage of a multitude of Thunderbird errors to earn a set point at 24-20 and won it 25-20 on a Gilfillan block.

In the third set, UBC rookie Kacey Jost smacked her first career kill as a Thunderbird to give her team a 23-15 lead that they would carry to a 25-19 set victory.

The fourth set saw both sides trade blows, but MacEwan held a 16-12 advantage at the break and maintained a four-point cushion through to a 23-19 lead. MacEwan withstood a T'Birds rally and took the set on a pair of UBC errors at 26-24 and forced a fifth.

In the deciding frame, the Griffins defence continued to stymie UBC's attack and the errors piled up for the home team. Van Ryk came up with a huge kill to punctuate a lengthy rally at 8-7 MacEwan, but the Griffins kept the pressure on the 'Birds and led 13-8. Furlan then served long to give MacEwan a match point at 14-10 that Van Ryk saved on a kill. Van Ryk extended the match for the second time on her 20th kill of the match, but it was too little too late as MacEwan closed it out on a close call. Tessa Davis' kill went wide and all four referees came together to confirm the call and end the match.

The teams will meet again on Saturday (6 p.m. MT, Canada West TV).