MacEwan Athletics and Brandon Athletics
BRANDON, Man. – Pressure can be a double-edged sword as the MacEwan Griffins have learned in abundance throughout a roller-coaster stretch drive in a bid to catch the first playoff spot in the program's Canada West history.
Last week, they used it to their advantage in sweeping favoured Trinity Western.
On Friday night, it almost came back to bite them as the Griffins coasted to a 2-0 advantage at Brandon before hanging on for dear life through a mental battle of nerves to survive with a 3-1 win.
No matter, though – there's no picture on the scorecard. With the 25-12, 25-15, 21-25, 25-23 win, the Griffins move to 12-11 in the Canada West standings and onto the doorstep of clinching a playoff berth.
The race will go down to the season's final day, though, after Mount Royal University (11-12) stayed within striking distance of the top eight with a 3-2 victory at the University of Saskatchewan, Manitoba (12-11) rallied from two sets down to upset Trinity Western 3-2 and Thompson Rivers (12-11) came from behind to beat UBC-Okanagan 3-2.
"We dominated the first two sets and then we started thinking ahead," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "We just got ahead of ourselves a little bit and that's understandable. We haven't been in this pressure situation like this where we're this close. I just thought we got a little tight."
With all the same teams meeting again on Saturday to wrap up the regular season, including MacEwan at Brandon (4 p.m. MT, Canada West TV), the playoff picture will be finalized in 24 hours.
"We've got to take care of ourselves," said Briggs. "For us, if we win (on Saturday), no problem, we're going to go."
Lose and their fate will be the hands of tiebreakers. The first tiebreaker is the ratio of sets won vs. sets lost and it's too close to call. Of the four teams battling for the final three playoff spots, Manitoba is currently the best at .489, MacEwan is second at .477, MRU is at .461 and TRU is .453.
"We came off a big win last weekend, but nothing is guaranteed for us, so we're just really working on it and grinding through every game," said fourth-year middle Mckenna Stevenson following Friday's match.
The Bobcats went with a new-look starting line-up and MacEwan made use of a great defensive game in the first two sets to make quick work of the Bobcats, holding the home-side to negative attack efficiencies at -.143 and -.103.
Brandon answered the bell in the third set and carried the momentum into the fourth, but it wasn't enough as the Griffins' goal of reaching the post-season elevated their game late in the match.
"We just really focus on our system and where we need to be on defence," said Stevenson. "We pride ourselves on being a hard-serving team, especially Carly Weber and Haley Gilfillan. They're really hard to pass, we even find that at home in our practices, but we just found a lot of success starting with our serve and pass in the morning and figuring things out then."
Stevenson's team-high 12 kills was good enough for a .474 hitting percentage as she also registered six blocks.
Gilfillan and Weber, meanwhile, came into the contest having both broken the MacEwan record for most service aces in a Canada West season with 42 each. Gilfillan added seven to her total Friday, while Weber had six. Weber added six kills, five digs and four blocks, while Gilfillan had five kills, four digs and five blocks.
"Gilf got on a roll a couple of times," said Briggs. "It was huge because this was the most attack errors we've had in a couple of weeks. McKenna (Stevenson) was our only real steady performer. She was 12 (kills) and three (errors) with six blocks. We blocked well, which was huge.
"But like I said, we just got a little tight. We haven't been in this situation before. It was just a reminder that nobody's going to give us a gift."
Not even Brandon head coach and good friend Lee Carter, who once coached together with Briggs at Grande Prairie Regional College. In fact, he nearly threw a wrinkle into his old assistant coach's plans.
"No team in Canada West, I don't care who they are, are just going to roll over," said Briggs. "If we give them opportunities, they're going to score. Lee made some nice changes. He put in three new players and they came in and changed their game plan. They were very effective against us.
"It wasn't like he threw somebody at us that we didn't know. It was just a different look and we didn't adjust in the three minutes between sets. That's what we learn for tomorrow – to expect changes."
The Bobcats (4-19) were paced by fifth-year Nikala Majewski whose final weekend as a Bobcat saw her register 16 kills on Friday, moving her to fifth all-time in Canada West with 1,220 in her career.
Majewski also contributed 18 digs while Caitlin Le had 19 digs and Michelle Egger had 10 kills.