Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON — A night after delivering what might have been their best performance of the season, the MacEwan University Griffins turned in perhaps their biggest clunker.
Rarely in Saturday's match against the No. 6 nationally-ranked University of Calgary Dinos, the Griffins fell in three straight (25-9, 25-17, 25-19) as the visitors wrapped up a weekend sweep.
"This is the highs and lows of learning," lamented MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "We talked about distractions today with all the other stuff going on (hosting the Northern Alberta Volleyball Club and their alumni).
"I really think that affected us at the beginning, going down 6-0. You could just sense 'oh my god, everyone's watching.' They'll deny it, but we know how to read body language on our team."
The Griffins got behind early and were never in the opening set as the Dinos cruised to a huge 16-point win.
Although MacEwan found its footing for the first part of the second set, they conceded a devastating 11-1 run as Calgary fought back from down 16-14 at the technical timeout to win 25-17.
"You can't have any runs like that," acknowledged Briggs. "You get into the three or four point run and now you're pushing it. We gave two big runs away there.
"But it's youth and it's learning what it takes to be mentally prepared," he added. "That sounds (like coach-speak), but that's really what it was.
"Unfortunately, we didn't play even close to where we can. We made a lot of errors and to their credit, when things go well, they really go well. They dug out balls and to their credit, we just couldn't put the ball on the floor."
Indeed, on the other side of the court, the Dinos were clicking at a higher rate than Friday when they ran into a bit of trouble against MacEwan before closing out a 3-1 win.
"Our setter did a very good job of executing our game plan offensively," noted Calgary head coach Natalie Gurnsey of Leah Shevkenek, who upped her level by a longshot over Friday when she was pulled mid-match. "So it got us more one on ones and it definitely prevented MacEwan from getting on those big defensive runs they did on us last night.
"It just opened up so many more opportunities for us to kill the ball."
Aided by Shevkenek's game-high 25 assists, star outside hitter Kate Pexman recorded 14 kills, tops among all players on the court. Laura McManes chipped in nine.
"They had some better performances," said Briggs, whose squad was outblocked by the Dinos 9-4. "Look at #10 (Emma Kastelein), she really jumped out today as a middle. Each day they had somebody rise up to help their go-to girl. We just didn't get that performance today."
The Griffins had no one in double digits in kills, with Cassidy Kinsella leading the way with nine, well below her usual output.
"Our outside hitters struggled, with the exception of Cass and I don't think she got to swing at more than five or 10 balls that were in system," said Briggs. "Otherwise you're just swinging to save – put the ball in play and let's hope something better happens."
With MacEwan's attack failing in the third set, Briggs switched setters, inserting rookie Mackenzie Oshanek-Gladue in place of starter Claire McLoughlin.
"She went in and did a good job, settled things down a little bit," he said. "When things go bad, we never go bad one at a time. We're all going to jump in the deep end together, so that was the big thing."
With the defeat, the Griffins now sit 3-11 on the Canada West campaign, while the Dinos, off the strength of the weekend sweep, move to 11-3.
"It does help us for positioning for the playoffs, but more than that to build our confidence as a team," said Gurnsey. "Each game we play is an opportunity for us to gel a little bit better and solidify roles, and really be confident as we build momentum into playoffs. This is just another step in that direction."
Next up for the Dinos is a visit to Manitoba on Jan. 20-21, while the Griffins will be back in action on the City Centre Campus next Friday vs. Brandon (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.).