Jason Hills, For MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team served up a strong message in their season opener Friday night at David Atkinson gymnasium against the University of British Columbia-Okanagan.
The past is the past.
After struggling to a 4-20 record last year, the Griffins dominated perennial conference contender UBCO Heat in four sets (25-16, 25-14,12-25, 25-19) to start their 2018-19 Canada West season on a high note.
Outside hitter Hailey Cornelius led MacEwan's attack with 11 kills and nine digs, while Janna Ogle made a triumphant return to the court, recording seven kills, seven digs and four service aces in her first conference game in 1,006 days.
"This win, it's huge. The year we went through last year, we would play that well, but we would've likely folded, or gone to five and it would've really got tense. I feel really good for them," said Griffins head coach Ken Briggs.
"I was really pleased. We never stopped, we battled, and it was contagious. We dug for balls and we got some lucky breaks, but we earned them."
MacEwan got off to a hot start in the opening set taking a 9-3 lead, forcing the Heat to take a time out.
A kill from Carly Weber and back-to-back aces from Cornelius made it 13-5.
The Griffins' serving was red-hot in the victory. They had 16 aces. Weber and Ogle had four each, while Haley Gilfillan had three and McKenna Stevenson and Kylie Schubert had two each.
Their serving gave UBCO all kinds of trouble and had the Heat chasing the ball all around the court.
"We served really well coming out of the gate and that put them out of system almost all the time," said Briggs.
"They're a solid team with a lot of veterans, but they have some first-years out on the floor, too, and we took advantage of that and tried to make it tough on them."
The Griffins didn't give up the lead in the opening set and MacEwan continued to dominate in the second, pouring on their attack all over the court and led from start to finish in the second set.
They were able to go on multiple runs, including an 8-0 run to make it 20-9 late in the second set. It was punctuated by a kill from Ogle.
UCBO couldn't generate any kind of offence in the second set without digging themselves into a deeper hole with service errors, miscommunication along the net.
Ogle, who had her volleyball career in jeopardy two years ago after undergoing major shoulder surgery following three seasons with the University of Calgary Dinos, gave the Griffins a big shot of confidence in the season opener.
"We always know she's going to contribute. I'm sure there were nerves, but what I liked was there was a moment where we were struggling, and I didn't have to call a timeout. She took care of the circle," said Briggs.
"She's a general on the floor and she can just calm things down."
Despite being down two sets, UBCO didn't back down. The Heat finished with a 19-5 record last year and have several members of that team back again.
MacEwan fell behind 7-1 in the third set and couldn't generate any momentum as UBCO took the third set handily.
"No team in this league is going to fold and die. Their leaders really picked it up and they gave us a scare," said Briggs.
Their third set struggles disappeared in the fourth set as they jumped out to an 11-2 lead. UBCO battled back with a big run of their own to eventually tie it at 19-19, but Ogle's fourth ace of the game made it 21-19 and the Griffins went on a 6-0 run to end the game.
"I was really pleased. We never stopped, we battled, and it was contagious. We dug for balls and we got some lucky breaks, but we earned them," said Briggs.
"These are the moments that in the past, we may have missed that serve coming out of the timeout, but (Ogle) went on a run. We created a lot of confidence for ourselves tonight."