Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – When it came to late-set points on Friday night in the David Atkinson Gym, it was as if there were gremlins on the MacEwan Griffins sidelines.
Darned if the men's volleyball match against the University of Calgary Dinos didn't follow the same script as the women's before it. The sets were close until late when the majority of the important points went the visitors' way.
Just as the Dinos women won 3-0 a little over an hour earlier, the Dinos men also earned a straight-sets win (25-22, 25-20, 25-21).
"The first set it's 21-20 and it just felt like a snap of the fingers and it was gone," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "Two hitting errors, a missed serve and boom, set's over. It just comes down to executing in those moments."
With the win, the Dinos improve to 9-8 in the standings, solidifying their hold on a playoff spot. The Griffins fall to 3-14.
"I thought our group really focused and I thought we did a good job," said Calgary head coach Rod Durrant of clutch play late in sets. "Grant MacEwan's a pretty solid team. Their record doesn't indicate that.
"I thought both teams were even up until 16 and then we did a couple of good things and played some good defence. I thought we served pretty well to help us get into those situations, as well."
Defensive hustle on the Calgary side of the court was one of the keys to the match. An early third-set point that put Calgary up 7-5 was the defining moment of that effort when two players laid out in front of the scorer's table to keep the ball alive until a hitting error on the MacEwan sidelines gave Calgary the point.
"At the end of the day, it's that time of the year," said Durrant. "If you want to be successful and you want to play good volleyball, you have to have that effort and we're pleased with it."
That effort frustrated the Griffins, who were hitting massive kills that were kept alive off the block or through inspired diving digs.
"Their block defence was quite good," said Poplawski. "Their defence, especially, was quite good. Our outsides even mentioned there's some balls they hit that they're used to scoring and it didn't. That can get mentally tiring.
"There were a few pretty good balls we hit that they were making great defensive efforts on. I just challenged our guys to try to get to that level defensively, as well."
Tim Taylor led the Dinos with 12 kills on .385 efficiency, while Mitchell Higgin was dominant in the middle with nine on .533. Libero Derek Meeuwisse led the digging effort with 10 of them. Setter Blain Cranston had 34 assists.
"Timmy's playing really well for us right now," said Durrant. "He's just got to stay focused and he knows he's going to get the volume. He does a good job for us."
"I was really happy with both those guys today," said Poplawski of Vriend and Peters. "I thought Petey really stabilized some things, hit some good pipe when we needed, touched a few things with his block and then same thing with Max. We tried to get a matchup with him. They were good tonight.
"We needed a few other guys to go with them a little bit. They out-killed us in the middle and that's kind of been something that's unfortunately been happening most of the season.
"I thought Caleb ran a really good offence and got our middles involved. There're some technical things they need to work on and we're working hard. It's just not going to change overnight. They have to find a way to score."
After leading 21-20 in the opening set and conceding a 5-1 run to drop it, the Griffins steamed back in Set 2, going toe-to-toe with Calgary early. Again, though, there were small periods of time when the Dinos hit the gas and the Griffins didn't respond quickly enough. They found themselves down 18-12 after an 8-3 Dinos run and could never catch up. Higgin ended it on a quick hitter in the middle.
It was more of the same in Set 3 as the Dinos broke open a close game with a mid-set run to cruise to 20 up five and they never relented, ending it when Liam Laidlaw's chip off the Griffins' block on a joust found the floor.
The teams will meet in the rematch on Saturday night (6:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).
The Griffins got a late boost in the match when fifth-year veteran and former kills leader Kai Hesthammer, thought lost for the season after an ankle injury suffered at UBC last month, briefly returned to the court.
"He got out of his boot and he practiced a fair bit this week," said Poplawski. "We're not going to have him jumping or anything like that, but he can solidify some passing. I told him when we subbed him back out, 'hey, you came in and passed three solid balls. It's nice to have you back.'
"He's a guy who's been a leader for us for a number of years. You never want to see a guy's career end with him on the bench. The fact that he's even able to get in is really good."