Rusty Griffins settle for five-set loss to Thunderbirds in first match in six weeks

Jordan Krause came MacEwan a lift off the bench in Friday's match at UBC, but it wasn't enough for the Griffins to overcome a rusty performance (Chris Piggott photo).
Jordan Krause came MacEwan a lift off the bench in Friday's match at UBC, but it wasn't enough for the Griffins to overcome a rusty performance (Chris Piggott photo).

MacEwan Athletics and UBC Athletics

VANCOUVER – Rusty from a six-week competition layoff, the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team was completely out of sync against UBC on Friday night.

Had they even been half in sync, they'd have a win to show for the opening match of a two-game set against the UBC Thunderbirds.

As it was, they pushed UBC to five sets, losing an epic heartbreaker 3-2 (25-18, 22-25, 25-18, 23-25, 15-12).

"To be honest, I don't think there were many things we can be happy with today," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "Going five really flattered us. They were the much better team, pretty much in all aspect.

"They made a lot of errors that kept us in it, but unfortunately, we just didn't bring much tonight."

Jordan Peters and Kai Hesthammer led the Griffins with 10 kills apiece, while Max Vriend had eight kills and five blocks, but it was MacEwan's bench that nearly pulled them out of the fire.

Down 2-1 in the match, bench contributors like Jordan Krause, Keenan Koss and Jonathan Mohler nearly led the team to a comeback.

"We tried a few different looks," said Poplawski. "When Krause comes in, he always brings energy and hard work. He's been very good in training. We were looking give them a different look and try a different option for us, plus he's a spin server and we didn't really have any spin servers on the floor. It gives their reception a different look, it gives their block a different look. He came in and did some good things."

UBC got a monster performance from rookie outside hitter Matt Neaves, who recorded 20 kills on .500 hitting efficiency, adding two aces and three blocks performance in a return to the lineup.

"He beasted tonight," said UBC head coach Mike Hawkins. "For being a young guy and not really having much playing experience up to this point, he made good decisions and took what the defence was allowing him to hit. For the rest of the team – it fueled us. Everyone was jumping on his back and I think he did a really great job."

MacEwan's Mark Alexander and Caleb Weiss combined for a big block to go up 5-4 early in the first set before Coltyn Liu responded with his first kill to tie it up. Neaves crushed his first kill with authority to give the home squad a 16-12 edge, his second kill made it 19-15 - and the Thunderbirds never looked back.

In the second set, Peters took MacEwan into the technical timeout up 16-14 and Hesthammer maintained the two-point lead with his second kill at 17-15. The visitors kept the 'Birds at bay and Vriend earned the Griffins a set point that he would convert on his sixth kill.

Neaves dropped an ace in the third and the two teams were even at 7-7 before Liu rattled off a kill and a blistering ace to make it 9-7. Dowhaniuk stuffed Vriend to put the T-Birds up 14-8 on a Joel Regehr service run and Neaves extended the lead to 16-9 at the technical timeout. Up 24-18, Neaves smoked a back row kill to win it 25-18.

With the fourth set knotted up at 4-4, Peters painted the line with an off-speed tip and started a 3-0 MacEwan run. The Griffins held that three-point edge into the technical timeout before a pair of Liu kills narrowed the deficit and the second-year outside hitter tied it at 18-18. At 23-23, Vriend blocked Neaves for a set point and MacEwan forced a fifth set on yet another block.

Hooker fired an ace to go up 2-1 early in the deciding set and Neaves cranked a kill for a 6-3 advantage. The Griffins clawed back on a T-Bird miscue to tie it at 6-6, but Liu responded on the attack and Neaves fired an ace to make it 8-6. With the final set tied 11-11, Liu flew in from the back row for a thunderous kill and a narrow lead. Hesthammer's serve sailed long to give UBC a match point at 14-12. Zeid Hamadeh entered the game and served up an ace to send the Griffins to defeat.

"It was unfortunate that in really all aspects of the game – our block, our passing, our block defence, our setting, our serving, nothing was at the level we needed it to be," said Poplawski. "Just when you haven't played in five weeks, that's a big chunk of time to not compete against a Canada West team, so I thought there would be some inconsistency in our game, but I was hoping we could work through some of that a little bit sooner. It just took us too long today."

The Griffins will aim for a split in Saturday's rematch (7:30 p.m. MT, Canada West TV). UBC has now joined them at 3-10 in the Canada West standings.