The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack have taken a step closer to securing their first ever Canada West home playoff series.
In a battle of two USPORTS ranked squads, the WolfPack rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the host MacEwan University Spartans 3-2. The scores on Friday night (Feb 7) were 17-25,23-25,25-22,26-24,15-13. The match was played at the David Atkinson Gym.
The WolfPack move to 16-5 on the year while the Griffins fall to 16-7.
MacEwan went into the match ranked eighth in USPORTS. Thompson Rivers is ninth.
The WolfPack notched 106 digs in the match. That is the fourth highest in Canada West history. The record is 141 held by the Winnipeg Wesmen who set it earlier this year against this same MacEwan squad (Jan 25, 2020).
“Either way, home court or not home court for either of our teams, it’s a good trial run for playoffs because we could meet each other or could meet a team of similar level because of where we are in the standings,” explained TRU head coach Chad Grimm. “I think without having the exact implications of playoffs, it’s good to be in those pressure situations where both teams face match point and play with some things that are going to be felt in playoffs.”
If that was a test of how a team will react under pressure, the Griffins will have to hope they got it out of their system. They’ve been solid all year in closing out tight matches, but they let TRU up off the mat on Friday.
“We controlled the whole match but just made too many mistakes,” said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. “We didn’t put the ball on the floor in the end when we needed to in both those sets. It’s disappointing.
“All the sets were nice and tight, but I thought we controlled the whole match. I just thought we made some bad decisions.”
MacEwan broke open a close first set after the technical timeout, finishing on a 9-2 run, punctuated by Haley Gilfillan’s set-winning kill. The Griffins outhit the WolfPack .412 to .241 in the opening set but couldn’t find that kind of efficiency later on.
Still, they managed to take the key points in Set 2, which was close all the way through until Mckenna Stevenson blasted one off the block and out to end it.
In Set 3, MacEwan was tied with TRU 22-22 and seemed a whisper away from ending the night in straight sets. But the WolfPack dug deep, taking the final three points, including Avery Pottle’s tip to the back line on set point.
“We’ve actually struggled on Friday nights and we saw that again tonight,” said Grimm. “I don’t think it was the prettiest match. I thought it was gritty on both sides, I thought it was tough.
“They controlled the match early. We made a bit of a pushback and got a little bit better at cleaning up some of their tips and gave ourselves a chance.”
MacEwan raced out of the gates in Set 4 to an 8-2 lead in a strong response to the fact the match was still going, but TRU instantly rattled off a 6-0 run and never let them get away again. As the teams traded tooth-and-nail points, the Griffins landed a match point opportunity up 24-23, but TRU came up with back-to-back blocks and rallied to stay alive on Kseniya Kocyigit’s kill.
TRU overcame back-to-back attacking errors to put them down 13-11 in the fifth set by rattling off four-straight points to close out the match.
Added Grimm, ” I thought we struggled for big chunks of the match tonight. Receiption wasn’t smooth. I thought our second contact wasn’t good as far as out of system. I didn’t think we did a very good job of picking up tips. I do think as the match went along we started to ‘dial that in’ a little bit. That was nice to see. Nice to see as well that the girls hung in when things were not smooth. I don’t think MacEwan played their smoothest match. It was a battle of attrition. Obvously when you are down 2-0 and the other team has match point as well. And then we were down in the fifth as well, it was nice to see the girls have that mental fortitude to hang in there and get it done.”
Olga Savenchuk led the WolfPack with 15 kills and 20 digs, while Kocyigit had 11 kills, five aces and four blocks.
Lauren Holmes led MacEwan with 17 kills and 13 digs, while Gilfillan had 16 kills and five blocks.
Thompson Rivers will close out the road portion of their Canada West regular season tomorrow in Edmonton against the Griffins. Match time is 5 PM MDT.
The Pack will then return home to prepare for their final home stand—a big one—against the defending U SPORTS champion and the current first place Canada West leaders, the Trinity Western University Spartans on Valentine’s Day (Feb 14) and Saturday, February 15th at the Tournament Capital Centre.
The Valentine’s Day game is the WolfPack’s annual # I Believe You” awareness night. On the Saturday, the team will honor their lone fifth year player, Kendra Finch after the match. Match times February 14th are 6:45 PM PDT and 5 PM PDT on the Saturday (Feb 15).