Griffins topple titan for second time in six days, upsetting No. 2 Spartans 3-2

Carly Weber blasts a kill through the Trinity Western block. She tied a MacEwan record with seven aces as the Griffins upset the Spartans 3-2 on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).
Carly Weber blasts a kill through the Trinity Western block. She tied a MacEwan record with seven aces as the Griffins upset the Spartans 3-2 on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Somehow, some way, they did it again.

Jaws continue to drop across the country as the upstart MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team played the role of giant slayers for the second time in six days, taking down U SPORTS No. 2 Trinity Western 3-2 on Friday night.

Their 21-25, 26-24, 16-25, 25-23, 15-13 triumph comes after the Griffins toppled then-No. 1 Calgary, also in five sets, last Saturday in the David Atkinson Gym.

"When we won last weekend and then today, we walked out of there and went 'wow, I can't believe we did that,' " exclaimed MacEwan outside hitter Lauren Holmes. "It's kind of surprising.

"But I feel like for the top-placed teams playing the middle of the pack, all the pressure's on them. It's a great experience to play where you don't have any pressure on you, so you can just go out there and swing as hard as you can because (observers) are expecting you to get blocked. It's fun to play with no pressure."

With the result, MacEwan improves to 10-11 on the season as they move into sole possession of the eighth and final playoff position in Canada West after Mount Royal University lost 3-0 to Calgary.

TWU falls to 18-3 but remains in the driver's seat for the top seed in the conference.

"It's certainly a real confidence booster for us," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "Nobody's expecting us there.

"They're basically playing to figure out where they're going to be in the seedings. It gives us one more opportunity to be in a fight at the end and we're making as much hay as we can."

Holmes led the Griffins with 13 kills on 43 swings as her arm got lots of work offensively and defensively, also recording a match-high 19 digs. Middle Haley Gilfillan had 11 kills and six blocks, McKenna Stevenson added 10 kills and Carly Weber had six kills to go along with six blocks and seven service aces – including four in a row during MacEwan's 6-0 run to open Set 2. Her aces total tied a MacEwan record.

"We've got to talk about Carly Weber," said Briggs. "She has a great serve. It's just how she mental (handles it). I thought she was very prepared. She's finally feeling a lot more comfortable in her new position, so that really shows.

"I'm not a big single out guy," Briggs continued. "But Lauren was very steady the whole game. She passed very well and that gives her confidence. Then she scored. Look at the middles, there they are in double figures. Really tough (matchup). That's the best blocking team in the conference by a mile."

Canada West blocks leader Mikaelyn Sych added five to her total to go along with 15 kills, while both Hilary Howe and Savannah Purdy recorded 16 kills for the Spartans, who went with backup setter Olivier Heinen after starter Brie O'Reilly went down with an injury. The rookie Heinen has a match-high 51 assists.

"Liv our setter came in on (short) notice," said Spartans head coach Ryan Hofer. "Brie our starter went down and Live came in and did a really nice job. I thought she delivered the ball. We had to make a lot of adjustments, so we're figuring that out."

The opening set was even throughout until the clutch points. The Spartans busted open a 19-19 tie and closed on a 6-2 run to claim it, taking advantage of some Griffins errors, but also showing why they're ranked so highly in Canada. They ended it on a Sych ace.

Behind Weber's four aces in a row, the Griffins built a 6-0 lead in Set 2, before the Spartans carved out a 10-3 run to take the lead. MacEwan, though, went on a 4-0 run to lead 16-13 at the technical timeout, beat TWU to 20 and held off a late Spartans rally, closing it out when Rachel Jorvina's dig flew up in the air but eluded the TWU defence.

The Spartans had complete control of Set 3 from start to finish and were never threatened, taking a 20-11 lead and wrapping it up early on Purdy's kill from the left side.

But they were unable to ride that wave of momentum as the Griffins rattled off a 5-1 run to start and held off multiple attempts by TWU to rally, including brushing off an 8-1 run. Still, the Griffins were first to 20 and led 22-17 before the Spartans rallied to tie it at 23. But back-to-back kills from Gilfillan and Weber gave it to the Griffins.

"I feel that we didn't play as aggressively as we need to play," said Hofer of being unable to keep the momentum gained in a third-set win. "They made some great plays. They've got some great servers who go back there and put us in a little bit of trouble, but we have to stay aggressive on our side of the court."

Set 5 featured long rallies and hearts in throats as the Griffins built a 5-1 lead before TWU fought back to tie the match 12-12. After Meaghan Mealey's serve went into the net, Purdy painted the line to tie it again at 13. But the Griffins took the decisive points as Stevenson and Gilfillan blasted kills through blocks.

"I love the energy," said Briggs. "To get the crowd excited like that is fun. And those crazy rallies in the last (set), that's what you play for. When you get three chances to score and you can't put it on the floor, you're like 'OK, what's going to end this?' "

The teams will play again on Saturday night (5 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).