Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With glimpses of the team they can be mixed with the resolve of two veterans playing the final matches of their university careers, the MacEwan Griffins took down the nationally-ranked Winnipeg Wesmen in the Canada West men's volleyball regular season finale for both teams on Saturday night.
Granted the Wesmen were resting some of their top players as they could do no better or worse than the fifth seed regardless of the result, but the Griffins put forth their strongest overall effort of the season in winning 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-22, 25-17).
"It was nice. I'm really happy to end with a 'W' for our guys," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski, whose group will finish 12th out of 13 teams with a 3-21 record. "It can be a long season when things aren't going well.
"This group, regardless of the result, they came every Monday ready to work. I think that shows a lot of character with them. It's fun right now to see them be with their families and have smiles."
Third-year middle Max Vriend led the Griffins with 13 kills on .500 efficiency and added five blocks, while rookie outside hitter Ryan Zachary was flat-out dominant at times in defeating Winnipeg double blocks, producing 10 kills. That gives plenty of hope for the future for a Griffins team that saw four rookies play in 10 matches or more.
"I keep saying to our guys our highlight film from this year is incredible," said Poplawski. "It's just repeatability, as we've mentioned before. They do some good things. We've got some athletes.
"They've got to learn how to play at this level and not just do it once or twice. It's how to do it over and over again. If you do make that error, rebound quicker and not let it develop into something. That's part of the maturation process of being an athlete at this level."
The Wesmen proved how deep their bench is on Saturday night as they sat top outside hitters Daniel Thiessen, David Bommersbach and Adrian Dyck, while starting setter Mikael Clegg played sparingly in just two sets. As a result, fifth-year Taylor Howe led the Wesmen with 14 kills and Evan Alexander showed off huge power on the left side with 12, while Benoit Teriault chipped in 10.
Logan Brennan, who has already played the libero and left side positions for the Wesmen this season, had a game-high 35 assists … as a setter on Saturday.
"They're all really starters for us – at different times they have been," said Wesmen head coach Larry McKay. "We have a week left of training before playoffs and there could be several of those guys who were out there (playing) in playoffs for us. So, it was an important match for us that way."
Winnipeg – the No. 6-ranked team in U SPORTS – will finish the season at 15-9, fifth in Canada West. They'll head to No. 4 Brandon (17-7) for a best-of-three first round match next weekend.
"Hopefully we're trained well both physically and technically to play our best in three or four days because the team we're playing against will be excellent," said McKay. "(It will be) a measure of all of our training throughout the year."
For the Griffins, Saturday is their closing moment and it will leave a good taste in their mouths, especially after they sent graduating seniors Shane Kerrison and Kornel Kowalewski off on a high note.
Following a pre-game ceremony to honour them, Kerrison had 12 kills for MacEwan, while Kowalewski produced six kills and five blocks. Kerrison was effective all evening in putting off-speed attacks off of Winnipeg blocks.
"It's kind of funny watching that because Shane, in his first year, had two speeds," said Poplawski. "It was hard and harder. Now he's developed that ability to play off the block a little bit and make good choices.
"I was happy for both of them they were able to play a great match and get to end their careers on the floor that way. They both have given a lot to this program and I'm going to miss them."