Griffins fall to eighth-straight defeat - a 3-1 setback at TRU - after passing falls apart

Caleb Weiss sets the ball against Thompson Rivers University on Saturday night in Kamloops, B.C. (Andrew Snucins photo).
Caleb Weiss sets the ball against Thompson Rivers University on Saturday night in Kamloops, B.C. (Andrew Snucins photo).

MacEwan Athletics and TRU Athletics

KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Just two points away from winning the fourth set and forcing a winner-take-all fifth, the MacEwan Griffins found a way to steal defeat from the jaws of victory and fall 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-23) to Thompson Rivers University on Saturday night.

Painfully, the Canada West men's volleyball match ended when Kyle Behiels' serve was dug out but needlessly hit the floor after a pair of Griffins were frozen in miscommunication over who should play it.

"Appropriate way for it to end, I thought," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "It kind of summed up our match. A lot of things we did throughout the match showed on that one play."

Namely, their passing in general. Poplawski believes it was the singular reason that cost them the match.

"We couldn't pass," he said. "It was not an acceptable level of ball control. Typically, the team that wins the serve-pass battle is going to have a good chance of winning the match and they won that battle in a big way tonight."

TRU netted a weekend sweep of MacEwan with the win on Saturday and moved to 7-1 in the standings. The Griffins, meanwhile, fall to 2-8 after losing their eighth in a row.

The WolfPack had a second-straight big night from star outside hitter Tim Dobbert, who led the way with 21 kills, while Charlie Bringloe added 13 and Anton Napolitano had 46 assists.

MacEwan was led by Max Vriend, who had 10 kills and Jordan Peters had eight. TRU out-dug MacEwan 39-26 in the match as the Griffins couldn't get into a rhythm passing. Their struggles weren't for a lack of practicing the technique.

"It's literally everything we do," said Poplawski. "We do serve-pass every single day. Because it's one of the hardest things in volleyball, we work on it all the time.

"I don't know why we don't trust it in games," he added. "I think we start trying too hard and then we start doing the wrong things. Instead of reading with our eyes, we start reading with our feet. By that, I mean we move too much instead of just reading where the ball is actually going. We start moving for the sake of moving and balls catch us high or balls catch us low."

TRU managed to record 13 service aces on the Griffins, which highlighted their passing woes.

"When we're playing well, we trust it," said Poplawski of the proper passing technique. "But you see us today and yesterday – we start moving before the ball's even served for no reason, then we're taking five steps when we should only be taking two. When that happens, you start trying harder and harder. But you have to work smarter, not harder. You have to do less, essentially, as a passer – just read the ball and trust you can move your feet."

The Griffins took the first set as they got four kills apiece from Peters and Vriend, while TRU was undone by eight service errors.

The WolfPack tied the match in the second set by gaining a middle stanza lead to 16-8 at the technical timeout and then squashing some late Griffins momentum with a huge kill in the middle by Sam Taylor Parks.

The momentum from that second set victory seemed to propel the Pack as they were up by six early on (14-8). They went onto a nine-point victory paced by four kills from Dobbert.

The fourth set saw MacEwan take the early lead and then the teams exchange points with TRU leading 16-14.  The Griffins emerged from the break on a run, taking advantage of some TRU errors. Tied at 23, the Griffins were called for a double hit setting up set point. You know the rest.

"We're up in the fourth set and we find a way to not close it out," said Poplawski. "It's just disappointing."

The WolfPack and Griffins will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their Canada West regular season next weekend (Nov 30-Dec 1). Thompson Rivers visits the University of Alberta Golden Bears while the Griffins will be at home to the Winnipeg Wesmen.