Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – After a slow start, the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team switched setters and tried different combinations as they pushed the powerhouse Alberta Pandas in their home opener in Atkinson Gym on Saturday night.
But it still added up to a 3-0 defeat for the home side as Alberta claimed a straight-sets win (25-12, 26-24, 25-23) in their first action of the young Canada West season.
Considering Alberta is the reigning USPORTS silver medalists, just giving them a run might be considered a win, of sorts.
Not so, said Griffins head coach Ken Briggs.
"It's not a moral victory today," he said. "It's an 'OK we're not there yet.' "
Multiple serve-receive errors and passing mistakes had MacEwan off to a dreadfully slow start as they were never in the first set. The Pandas cruised to a 25-12 win, wrapping it up on Eryn Orysiuk's sneaky second-touch tip.
In the second set, the Griffins came to play, though, as Mackenzie Oshanek-Gladue replaced Claire McLoughlin at setter. They stayed with the Pandas for most of the set and finally tied it up 22-22 when Cassidy Kinsella blasted it off the block and out. After the teams traded points and the score was knotted at 24, Alberta's Vanessa Jarman took over, blasting a kill through a block from the right side and then blocking Kinsella to end the set.
"What continues to impress me about this relatively new group is their fight and their tenacity," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler, whose team improves to 1-0. "They just figure out ways to come up with solutions. It's not pretty, but we don't care about pretty. We find a way to score points."
The Pandas would write a similar story in the third set, but not before overcoming some adversity. Starting outside hitter Tessa Hill went down with a suspected knee injury midway through and had to be carried off the court. Erin Corbett came on in relief.
But MacEwan couldn't take advantage of the change in personnel. Once again, they stayed with Alberta and had the scored tied 22-22, but the Pandas had the finishing kick. Shauntelle Hogg put the game away with a massive kill in the middle.
The Pandas were able to use late set timeouts to their advantage in the match, as Eisler's pep-talks settled them down.
"It's hard out there and sometimes you've just got to remind them to breathe," she said. "We've got to relax between points and play point by point and let the result take care of itself."
For Briggs and co., they will learn from the experience, but know they need to start putting wins together as they fall to 0-3 on the season.
"What I see at the end of the game is they're not satisfied with the fact that we stayed close twice," he said. "We made just a bunch of mental errors. I think they're starting to realize, 'holy cow, we stop that, we control the game without letting them control the game. We had them. They brought in a new player and we could go after that. But she came in and settled down and we gave her that chance to settle."
Kory White led the Pandas with 10 kills, while Janae Eisler had 19 digs. Jarman's five kills on a .400 hitting percentage led Alberta in efficiency. Orsyiuk had 33 assists.
MacEwan was led by Kinsella's nine kills and Rachel Jorvina's 12 digs. Haley Gilfillan had four kills, two digs and four blocks also led MacEwan in efficiency with a .250 hitting percentage.
"We tried a couple of new things out there. It kind of worked," said Briggs. "U of A runs such a well-structured offence and defence that sometimes in the heat (of the moment) you forget 'what are my responsibilities?' You just get caught up.
"That's where we're at right now. We're not quite mentally sharp over a long period of time. But I like where we're going. We're doing the right things. I just feel like I'm saying it over and over again. We just need to get over that hump."
The teams will meet again on Sunday at the U of A's Saville Centre (4 p.m., Canada West TV).