Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Showing veteran poise, the MacEwan Griffins overcame a much more consistent and gritty effort from the visiting Manitoba Bisons than they saw in Night 1 of their Canada West women's volleyball weekend series.
While the ultimate result was the same – a 3-0 win for the home team (25-23, 25-23, 25-20) – all three sets could have gone either way until the final points were secured.
"We know the value for sets for and against," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs, alluding to losing a painful tiebreaker to miss the playoffs last season. "That's why I like that we found a way to sweep. You know those are battles, but we did a good job finishing."
No matter what the Bisons threw at the Griffins, they always had an ace (or two) in the hole – running a play to their star middles Haley Gilfillan and McKenna Stevenson that seemed to get them out of every jam.
Stevenson led the way with 10 kills and three aces, while Gilfillan had nine kills (on a .562 hitting percentage) with three aces, too, as MacEwan improved to 8-4 at the semester break.
"In transition that's what you want to run because the other team has to react so quickly," said Briggs of using his middles everywhere – left side, right side and in between. "That's not taking away from (others). You look at that third set and I thought (Hailey) Cornelis had a great finish there. She really played strong.
"They picked up their defence quite a bit. In that third set, we had to earn every point."
For most of the match that was the case as the Bisons looked comfortable in the David Atkinson Gym, a stark contrast to a day earlier when they were out of system for much of the match.
"It was a good battle," said Bisons head coach Ken Bentley. "Any one of those three sets was up for grabs. I was pleased with the fight tonight. Nothing really to complain about except we lost.
"We deserved a better fate with our effort, but that's just the way it goes. I was happy with how we played."
Laura Hill led the Bisons with 10 kills – seven of those in the second set – as she found a way to get the ball through and around many of MacEwan's blocking attempts.
"She had a great night," said Bentley. "She hit the ball really well. But everybody was just better tonight. It allowed everybody to be a bit more successful. The first-year kids did a good job.
"So, it's disappointing to lose, but we're certainly not discouraged with our play. I was pretty happy with it. It's been a long first term and we played a lot of exhibition, so for us to be real strong and put a good effort in was good."
Kearley Abbott added nine kills and a game-high 17 digs for Manitoba, who head into the semester break at 2-10 and will need a big rally in the second half to put themselves in a playoff position. Their next action is at home against Calgary on Jan. 3-4.
MacEwan, meanwhile, will come of the break with road matches at Saskatchewan on the same days.
To go 8-4 through the first semester is solid for a Griffins team that trying to finally clinch the first Canada West playoff spot in program history.
"My biggest worry was those first four weeks and to keep them believing that everything was going to be OK," said Briggs. "It sets us up really nice for the second semester.
"Every weekend now is going to be fun. You're playing for a split, which is a good weekend."