Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
A trio of incoming MacEwan men's volleyball freshmen played major roles for Team Alberta at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.
Ryan Zachary, Liam Huth and Caleb Weiss all have shiny silver medals to show for their efforts after they lost a heartbreaker to Team Ontario 3-2 on Saturday, falling 16-14 in the fifth-and-deciding set.
MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski, who was a co-coach of Team Alberta with U of A associate coach Brock Davidiuk, acknowledged the silver accomplishment is bittersweet.
"The initial thought was we were disappointed, but I think as time goes on you realize we did accomplish something pretty awesome," he said. "I hope the guys are proud of that because I know as coaches we were extremely proud."
Alberta fell behind 2-0 in the final only to storm back and take the next two sets over Ontario.
"We were in a good spot in the fifth," said Poplawski. "We were up 12-10, but they just made a few more plays. Their libero made a couple unreal digs. In a fifth set when it's that tight, it comes down to one or two plays and they were just on the right side of it, unfortunately. But I'm really proud of the effort from the guys."
Zachary, a right-side power hitter from Airdrie who has a bright future lined up at MacEwan, was a standout for Team Alberta during the Canada Games tournament.
"Ryan Zachary was awesome for us throughout the tournament," said Poplawski. "He had a great tournament. It was really awesome to see him progress throughout the summer.
"He was, frankly, dominant at times."
Huth, from Sherwood Park, was looking great as one of Team Alberta's starting middles until he suffered a concussion and missed the squad's final four games.
"That's something that's very tough to deal with," said Poplawski. "He spent a lot of time getting ready for this tournament and to not be able to compete was hard on him.
"I was really impressed with how he handled it and was able to show leadership as one of the captains of our team. There was no self-pity. It was 'what can I do to help the team?' "
And Sherwood Park's Weiss, whose future with the Griffins is bright at the setter position, won the starting job for Team Alberta midway through the Games.
"As the tournament progressed, Caleb Weiss stepped into our starting setter role," said Poplawski. "He started our quarter-final, semifinal and the final.
"From a MacEwan perspective, those guys got a lot of playing time and were playing quite well against the best competition in the country in this age class. It bodes well for them, hopefully, that they've had a taste."
They've also been playing high-level volleyball since July 5 when Team Alberta's training camp opened in Edmonton. Following that, the coaches took them to Florida for USA Volleyball's High Performance Championship, which included eight matches in six days. After a small break, they were back on the court in Calgary before leaving for the Games on Aug. 5.
"All the guys need a break after this," said Poplawski. "We told them they should take some time away from volleyball.
"It was quite the process to prepare. I think Volleyball Alberta did an awesome job of giving us those exhibition opportunities to test some things so when we headed to the Games we knew a little bit about how they would respond in competition."
And, as with all multi-sport events, they are over quickly – the weeks of preparation behind them as teams go their separate ways.
"After the match, the first thought is 'wow, it's said because this group is done.' " Said Poplawski, who joined Davidiuk in coaching that Team Alberta group for two years.
"After spending all that time together, the finality of it is a little sad because of what a great group it was. It was a lot of fun."
The turnaround to the Canada West season is quick, though. The Griffins start their on-court preparations when players report to training camp Aug. 28.
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