Untimely errors sink Griffins in tight battle with visiting Cougars

Kai Hesthammer rips one off the Mount Royal block on Friday night (Chris Piggott photo).
Kai Hesthammer rips one off the Mount Royal block on Friday night (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – A waterfall of untimely errors struck the MacEwan Griffins down late in third set and early in the fourth as the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars found victory in a battle of teams on the outside of the Canada West men's volleyball picture on Friday night.

MacEwan couldn't recover from the gushing flow of bad momentum and fell 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 25-22, 25-19).

"Two teams obviously battling and I thought our execution was just a little cleaner," said Cougars head coach Shawn Sky, whose team improves to 4-13 as they aim to salvage an injury-ravaged campaign.

"I actually thought in all four sets it was a serve-pass game. They did a heck of a job beating us up in the second set and the third set, I thought that was the biggest thing. The later stages of that, we got a couple of good serves off and it's just a simple game of if you can get serve pressure it doesn't just impact passing, but it also impacts the other team's serve pressure as well."

Mitchell Newman led the Cougars with 10 kills and five blocks, while Tyler Schmidt had nine kills and 12 digs and Nick Lightfoot chipped in nine kills and two aces. Ty Moline also had five blocks.

MacEwan was undone by 17 service errors in the match to only nine for the Cougars.

"There's some guys with new serves, but to be honest, the misses weren't good misses," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. "I can live with guys taking an aggressive rip, but a guy hitting a 50 per cent serve not even close, that's unacceptable.

"That's not the type of errors we can make. So, it's not just the number of errors – it's the timing and the type."

Sky was pleased his team was able to battle through and get a win amidst a season with rare adversity on the injury front that's derailed the Cougars' grand plans of hunting a Canada West title.

"To be totally candid, you roll the season out 10 times, I would have never pictured it this way," he said. "We've been just wrecked with injuries.

"We have a fifth-year middle out for the year with a knee injury, we have another fifth-year left side at home with a broken thumb. We have our best passing left side done for the year with an ankle," he continued. "So, it's a tribute to these guys because it certainly wasn't the season anyone's designed or planned, but that's what Canada West is and you have to prep and you have to play hard.

"Really, what it creates is a great opportunity for other guys to step up and tonight it was nice to see a bunch of guys step up."

The Griffins had their best work in the second set when they got off to a quick start and controlled the proceedings with a good mix of Ryan Zachary, Liam Huth, Jordan Peters and Kai Hesthammer kills, aided by a few MRU errors. They withstood a vigorous Cougars comeback attempt and won when Schmidt was blocked by Max Vriend.

Rookie Zachary led MacEwan with 13 kills on the outside, while Hesthammer added 11. Rookie setter Caleb Weiss had 39 assists for the Griffins, some of them brilliant. Huth, kept on the shelf with a concussion for most of his rookie season, had his best showing so far, finishing with seven kills in the middle on .636 efficiency, adding two blocks.

"He is our fastest athlete laterally, it's not even close," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "He's one of the fastest athletes I've ever seen at that age to close blocks. And his read-blocking is exceptional. It's great to see him do that stuff. I thought he did some good things."

But the downside of youth and inexperience is what happened later in the match – a number of errors draining the confidence.

"I think maybe that's part of it," said Poplawski. "We have three first-years on the floor. That's not an excuse but there's growing pains associated with that.

"I think the only way they're going to get better is put themselves in situations. They're earning these opportunities and I like what they're bringing. I'm hoping investing in that will help out this year, but also for the future."

The Griffins (1-14) will try to salvage a weekend split with the Cougars when the teams meet again on Saturday night (6:30 p.m., Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).