Griffins battle through adversity to claim home opener, beating UBCO Heat in straight sets

Jordan Peters hits one of his team-leading 13 kills through the UBC-Okanagan block on Friday night (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Jordan Peters hits one of his team-leading 13 kills through the UBC-Okanagan block on Friday night (Robert Antoniuk photo).

Jason Hills, For MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team showed they're not afraid to battle some adversity.

They may have swept the University of British Columbia-Okanagan in three straight sets (25-21, 25-22, 27-25) on Friday night at the David Atkinson gym, but they had to work for every last point in the victory.

"It was a battle. It's three sets in name only. They gave us everything they had and it forced the boys to work through adversity," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski.

"We had to battle from behind in the second set, and they pushed us to the brink in the third set, and that could've turned the game around in their favour had they won that third set. It was a good first test and win for the boys."

The dynamic outside hitter duo of Jordan Peters and Max Vriend came through big, combining for 24 kills in the victory. Peters led with 13 kills and five digs, while Friend had 11 kills and six digs.

The Griffins rely on the third and fourth-year outside-hitters and Peters and Vriend led the way.

"As our right side and P1, they have to carry a lot of volume for us, and they did that tonight, and I liked that it wasn't just those things they were doing well. They stayed patient and they made good choices and they put us back in advantageous situations," said Poplawski.

All three sets were back-and-forth battles the biggest lead of the game was just a four-point gap. After MacEwan took the opening set 25-21, UBCO jumped out to their biggest lead at 6-2 in the second set, but the Griffins came storming back.

UBCO tied it up three different times in the middle and late stages of the set, but a big kill from Peters sparked the Griffins, and they 5-2 run to earn the 25-22 set win.

"Being down in the second set and they pushed us to the brink in the third set, and that could've turned the game around in their favour. It was a good first test and win for the boys," said Poplawski.

"Down 6-2 to start wasn't an ideal, but it was all self-inflicting. We lost our passing and we made some bad choices over things we had control over. It was important to reset and know there's so much game left."

Grande Prairie Regional College transfer and Brisbane, Australia, product David Morgan made his Griffins debut at libero, and he led the squad with nine digs in his first game in maroon and white.

"I really liked his (Morgan's) game and he showed a lot of composure. Him and Caleb (Weiss) really stabilized our passing game," said Poplawski.

The third set was a nail-biter as UBCO took an early 4-3 lead as both teams battled back and forth.

MacEwan took their first lead of the third set at 5-4, and they couldn't gain any breathing room the entire set as UBCO kept right on their heels.

The Griffins were able to go on a mini-4-0 run midway through the set, that was punctuated with a great double-team block from Friend and Keenan Koss.

But after falling behind 16-12, UBCO, showed a lot of perseverance on their end as they fought back to tie the set up eight different times.

It took another big block from Vriend to finally extinguish the Heat.

"We know when we're down 0-2, we're going to push and we knew they were going to give us everything we could handle and we had to push back at the end, and I was happy we came through in the end," said Poplawski.

"For our guys, I'm hoping getting a win early really builds some confidence. It was a tough season for us last year. Our record wasn't where we wanted it to be. We know we're a good team and we want to get off to a good start, because the Canada West conference is so tough."

Max Heppell led the Heat with 18 kills and 11 digs, while Matt Aubry chipped in 10 kills and two aces.

The teams will meet again on Saturday (6:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym).