Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Fittingly, it was Cassidy Kinsella who nuked a volleyball through the block from the left side for the deciding point on Friday night.
Playing in the final weekend of her Canada West career, the fifth-year outside hitter rescued the Griffins from the jaws of defeat with unstoppable play down the stretch – her game-high 23 kills delivering a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Winnipeg Wesmen (25-22, 23-25, 24-26, 25-14, 15-8).
"That's the efficiency that we have come to expect from one of the best outsides in Canada West," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs.
That's Kinsella's highest kills total in a match this season and fourth-most of any Griffins player in a single Canada West game as she continues to climb up the conference career ladder. She remains unlikely to catch conference career kills leader Meg Casault (formerly of Alberta), whom she is trailing by 38 with one match to go. But she is likely to advance to second in career points; with 24.5 on Friday, she trails former Trinity Western star Sophie Carpentier by just six.
Riding shotgun to Kinsella's success was fifth-year setter Claire McLoughlin, who recorded a game-high 48 assists and 14 digs.
"I thought Claire had a great game as the setting part, but her digs really stood out," said Briggs. "The digging part was great. A year ago, she wouldn't have dug those. She had it going the whole game."
Unfortunately, as a team, the Griffins really didn't have it going all night. As has been the story of their season, the night was like a wild roller-coaster ride. Just hang on for dear life.
In the first set, the Griffins raced out to a 16-6 lead, only to concede separate runs of 4-0, 5-0 and 3-0 that had the Wesmen on the verge of a stunning comeback, down just 23-22. But Winnipeg's momentum stalled after a Griffins' timeout with a service error and Kate Rozendaal put the set away with a left-side blast.
"Our slow start, I see it on our side," said Wesmen head coach Diane Scott. "We've struggled with our youth and we've excelled with our youth.
"It's been a year of having them all show up and be intense enough and focused enough all on the same page at once. That was our issue at the start of the match. We weren't engaged, we weren't focused. We were a little too loose. We need to be a little scared, if that makes sense. Not to stifle us, but to stay engaged."
The second set was MacEwan's worst of the match as they really had trouble setting up much of a block and Winnipeg played better defence. The majority of the Griffins' errors came in that set and Winnipeg took advantage, with Emma Parker putting it away on their second set point.
"It was just all timing," said Briggs of a block that has had success against some of Canada West's top teams this season, but really struggled against the Wesmen. "We talked about it endlessly. We were just impatient. We must have had 10 balls that we blocked, but they were on our side after. We hesitated for a while. Our communication wasn't as strong as it needed to be in those situations.
"You look at the (stats) sheet and it's not as bad as it felt out there."
The teams traded points in the third set and MacEwan looked poised to end it, up 24-22, before conceding a painful 4-0 run. Rylie Dickson ended it on one of Winnipeg's seven service aces in the set.
But, just when it seemed the Griffins were falling apart, they flipped a switch and dominated the rest of the match. The fourth set wasn't even close, as MacEwan used a 10-0 run in the middle of it to gain an insurmountable lead. It ended when McKenna Stevenson and Lauren Holmes blocked Kalena Schulz.
"We didn't come out of the gate in the fourth set," lamented Scott. "We were up 2-1 and we talked about it in the timeout that it's not over and stay more engaged. Don't think that you can sit back. We haven't been in that position, being up 2-1, for months.
"The first six points MacEwan got in the fourth set were our unforced errors, so that's hard to come back from. That's not taking anything away from MacEwan. They're a good team and they've struggled this year without that making any sense because they're an athletic, more veteran team."
That veteran team, specifically Kinsella and McLoughlin, really showed up in the fifth as MacEwan put it away.
"That fourth set's scary when you dominate because it's never the same going into the fifth, yet we did keep it going in the fifth," said Briggs. "Our goal in those last two sets was 'OK, let's just limit our errors.' And we did. That's a good total (16) considering how many balls we swung at (154).
"It felt so bad because it was all at the beginning in that first set or two."
Besides Kinsella and McLoughlin, the Griffins (3-20) got 11 kills each from Rozendaal and Holmes.
Winnipeg (1-22) was led by Schulz's 15 kills and Parker's 14. Dickson had 47 assists.
They'll will meet again on Saturday night (5 p.m. MT, Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV), which is the final match of the season for both teams. MacEwan will honour its four graduating players – Kinsella, McLoughlin, Rozendaal and Karly Edgar – on Senior Night.