Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Taking nothing for granted a night after the upstart MacEwan Griffins threw a scare into them, the Trinity Western Spartans never let up in Saturday's rematch at the David Atkinson Gym.
The Spartans put their foot on the gas from the national anthem on out and raced to the finish in a 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-14) rout that showed why they are the No. 1-ranked team in USPORTS.
"It's funny because we actually had better numbers tonight offensively," said MacEwan Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski a night after coming close to an upset. "It's just we couldn't stop them at all. They kind of got to another level. I think it really showed that they're the number one team in the country tonight."
On Friday, the Griffins forced star Eric Loeppky to take some speed off his powerful swing with their blocking assignments, but he swung for the fences often on Saturday, finishing with a match-high 14 kills on .500 efficiency. Jacob Kern – deadly on the back-row pipe play – finished with 11 kills and a game-high 10 digs.
According to TWU head coach Ben Josephson, everyone's numbers were dynamite because of one man: veteran fifth-year setter Adam Schriemer, the reigning USPORTS national championship MVP. His numbers – 40 assists in just three sets – were eye-popping.
"I thought last night our setter Schriemer didn't have as good a game as he's capable of," he said. "Part of it was the way they were blocking was a little bit new and we weren't dialing in on that. We reviewed a little tape and he was able to get a handle of how to run it against them and once he kind of understands what he's doing – he's a fifth-year guy, he was the MVP last year at nationals. He's been around the block a time or two. That's what veteran setters will do.
"We've got enough weaponry for him to set it up. I think he ran a masterful game tonight and got a lot of good players a lot of looks."
Another key for the Spartans was throwing Edmonton's Riley Vander Meulen into the mix. The fourth-year outside hitter had eight kills on .636 efficiency.
"He has a unique way of attacking, which is different than our big physical middles," said Josephson. "Riley's much quicker and more arm-speed based. That presented a new problem for them. I think those two things – Adam being better and Riley's speed in the gap – just created some problems."
Offensively, MacEwan did what they wanted. They had some good hitting percentage numbers – most notably from third-year middle Max Vriend, who racked up eight kills on .333 efficiency. Unfortunately, their opponent's numbers were just that much better.
"In the first set, we had 12 kills … and they had 18," he said. "We matched our goal – we want to have 12 kills a set roughly – and we got there, but it didn't matter because we couldn't block or defend anything. It was because they were keeping us really off balance with a varied attack. Their guys came to play tonight. They were hitting hard, hitting smart."
So, the Griffins will head into the semester break with a 1-11 record, tied for last in the Canada West standings with Regina. They've had a lot of near misses, though, and are a good team, just not a great team like TWU (11-1) is.
"In golf, it's really easy to go from a 25-handicap to a 10-handicap, but it's really hard to go from a 10 to a scratch and I think that's where this program is," said Poplawski. "When we first came into this league, we wouldn't get in double digits in a match like this. You saw last night and tonight at times, when we play well … now, to be able to take that next step to be able to compete with the top-ranked teams is going to be really, really hard.
"We've closed that gap a little, but when they're on … you can see the level we have to get to to be competitive nationally. It's a tall order," he added. "I think we showed a lot of progress through the first semester and there's a lot of things I'm really proud of the group that they're doing. But obviously we need to do more."
Josephson may be at the helm of the defending national champions, but he's had some major turnover with reigning Canada West MVP Ryan Sclater and nationals all-star Blake Scheerhorn gone.
"This is the youngest crew we've had in a long time, so I was expecting a few more mistakes along the way," he said of being pleasantly surprised with the 11-win first semester. "They've actually found ways to win – last night would be one of those. We weren't at our best, but they still found a way to win.
"Overall, they're ahead of schedule, I think they're improving really well," he added. "We're set up in position to maybe host a first-round playoff, if we keep doing well and that's kind of what you're hoping for.
"That's always been our goal and I think we've set ourselves up well for the second half to do that."
TWU will next host Winnipeg on Jan. 5, while MacEwan has a bye week, travelling to Saskatchewan for their next action on Jan. 12.