Close sets again fail to go Griffins' way in 3-0 defeat at Huskies

Kai Hesthammer had one of the best games of his Canada West career on Saturday night for the Griffins, but his 15 kills weren't enough in a 3-0 defeat at Saskatchewan (Chris Piggott photo).
Kai Hesthammer had one of the best games of his Canada West career on Saturday night for the Griffins, but his 15 kills weren't enough in a 3-0 defeat at Saskatchewan (Chris Piggott photo).

MacEwan Athletics and Huskies Athletics

SASKATOON – The MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team remains stuck on top of a mental hump that they just can't get over.

How do you play with a lead? How do you stay two points ahead instead of two points behind?

Those are questions that have confounded them multiple times this Canada West campaign and Saturday, unfortunately, was no different. They were in every set, but came on the wrong side of all them in a 3-0 defeat to the Saskatchewan Huskies (25-21, 25-23, 28-26).

The third set particularly stings, considering the Griffins led 16-12 at the technical timeout. Teams don't often relinquish that kind of advantage late in a set, but they managed to find themselves behind 24-22 and needing a miracle rally to push it to extra points. They did, but their attempt ended on a Daulton Sinoski service ace.

"We've talked about this before: when you have a lead like that, you have to close it out," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. "For whatever reason, we have a passing error, then an attacking error. We didn't have that side out mentality.

"It seems like we get comfortable playing behind by two," he added. "We have to get comfortable being up by two or four or whatever it is. It's a different mentality, but it's something we have to keep working towards."

The Griffins had a shot at the first set, trailing just 23-21 and had all the momentum with them before Saskatchewan's Dylan Mortensen cancelled any comeback plans with a pretty kill and Aidan Saladana finished it off with a kill of his own in the 25-21 win.

MacEwan had a better start in the third and led 12-10. The tides turned when second-year CJ Gavlas delivered three straight aces, forcing a MacEwan timeout. Saskatchewan grew lead to 22-17 before the Griffins fired back. Narrowing the lead to 24-23, the Huskies spent a timeout before Colin Fraser ended it with a kill, 25-23.

Maintaining the lead throughout the majority of the third, MacEwan build an 18-14 lead that featured a lengthy run at the service for first-year Ryan Zachary. Sinoski had a response going on a six-point service run capped off by an ace. MacEwan eventually tied things at 24, before Sinoski came through once again with a kill and a service ace for the final two points needed in the 28-26 win. 

Kai Hesthammer had a great night for the Griffins with 15 kills on a .423 hitting percentage, accounting for a game-high 15.0 points.

"Kai had probably one of his best games offensively that he's had in three years," said Poplawski. "A lot of those kills were out of the back row in the pipe, too.

"We saw video of stuff we wanted all of our attackers to do and I thought he executed well. Again, it's a case of one guy had a very good night, we just didn't have enough guys (going)."

With the result, the Griffins fall to 1-13, while Saskatchewan improves to 7-9.

MacEwan returns home for a pair of games against Mount Royal University next weekend, while Saskatchewan travels to Thompson Rivers University.

Poplawski said they'll keep learning how to win these close ones.

"You see a 3-0 loss, but it was a lot closer than that," he said. "We're still not finding ways to be on the right side of it.

"When you have a lead like we did in the third, it's so imperative that you respect that lead and keep adding to it. Right now, we just struggle to do that. We have to get better at that."