Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Jordan Peters elevated into the stratosphere on Saturday night and rained down a ripper straight onto the hardwood, putting an exclamation mark on a huge season-opening weekend for the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team.
They beat the undermanned UBC-Okanagan Heat in straight sets (25-19, 25-20, 25-19) to complete a weekend sweep for the first time since the 2016-17 Canada West season.
"It just helps us get on the map even more," said third-year left side Peters, who had 10 kills and four blocks for the Griffins. "Last year we've been known to let games go like that. But this year we're a completely new team that's continuing to grow."
Don't look now, but the team voted to finish last in the Canada West coaches poll – the program that had gone 11-85 in their first four Canada West seasons of existence – is sitting first overall at 2-0.
They're the only team in action so far that has yet to drop a set after posting back-to-back 3-0 wins in a weekend for the first time in program history.
Mentally, that's a boost for players who've suffered through more than their fair share of losses.
"The guys have always worked hard regardless of the record and it's tough when you're not getting rewarded with the wins," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "I really hope that they see value in the way we're training. And we push them hard in training. Now they can see why: 'If we do these things, we can be successful.'
"I think sometimes when you're not, doubt starts to creep in. If they just have that belief in themselves … they're good players," he added. "I'm happy with them that they've got these results early and I really hope it's something we can continue to build on. We still have a lot we can get better at."
Just as on Friday, UBCO was in the match, but they were outplayed down the stretch in every set. Perhaps that could have something to do with an unusually short bench due to injuries.
"I think when you have nine people able to play, I think that's where it starts to go wrong," said Heat head coach Brad Hudson. "It's pretty tough to train with nine or 10.
"We have 17 people on our roster."
Max Heppel led the Heat with 11 kills and six digs, but the most impressive Heat performance might have come from fifth-year left-side Brennan Goski, who was thrust into the middle for the first time in his career due to injuries, producing six kills and three blocks.
"We asked him to play out of position and I thought he did a really good job," said Hudson. "It's probably his best match for us.
"He hasn't trained or played middle at all, but again when you travel with two middles and one of them gets hurt on Friday, someone has to step in."
The Griffins were only up 16-14 at the technical timeout in the first set but pulled away down the stretch, winning big with the decisive point coming off a Peters block.
In Set 2, UBCO was in good shape early before the Griffins went on a 9-2 run through the technical timeout and earned the win on Set Point No. 2 when Hesthammer went off the block and out of bounds from the left side.
The third set just mirrored the others as the Griffins held a slim 16-14 lead before hammering down the throttle and winning big off Peters' thundering attack.
Second-year Griffins setter Caleb Weiss appeared to come into his own in the match, delivering a great variety of passes that led to production from the big three: Peters, Max Vriend (11 kills, four blocks) and Kai Hesthammer (eight kills on .500 hitting percentage). Weiss had 28 assists and led the team from the service line with three aces. David Morgan added a game-high nine digs.
"A lot of it has to be internal growth this year and that's kind of what we were banking on," said Poplawski. "There have been growing pains because we've played a lot of young guys, but this was kind of always the hope. Yeah, it's tough for them in their first or second year, but that experience hopefully down the road will pay off.
"I think it's showing that they've been through some of these experiences before and they're taking their lumps and growing pains. I think we're seeing a little bit of the positives from that."
Next up for the Griffins is a trip to Manitoba Oct. 27-28. The Heat, meanwhile, will return to Kelowna for their home opener on Oct. 26 vs. Trinity Western.
"All you can do is learn and move forward," said Hudson. "We'll go back and watch the tape and we'll look at the numbers and we'll figure out how we can get better on Monday."