Griffins run into clinical Spartans in straight-sets defeat

Kai Hesthammer battles Trinity Western's Jacob Kern at the net on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).
Kai Hesthammer battles Trinity Western's Jacob Kern at the net on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – As clinical as it was thorough, the Trinity Western Spartans delivered a straight-sets beatdown over the MacEwan Griffins on Friday night that may have been the fastest men's volleyball match ever played in the David Atkinson Gym.

Blink and it was over as the Spartans sprinted unscathed to the final whistle 25-15, 25-13, 25-14.

"That's a national championship-calibre team and we're not good enough," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. "They're just better than us."

With the result, the Spartans move to 15-4, second-best in Canada West, while the Griffins fall to 3-16, second-last in the conference.

It's bad enough to stare down the U SPORTS No. 2 Spartans on a good day, but the Griffins had the unfortunate turn to face them when head coach Ben Josephson issued them a challenge: play more consistently.

"We've been talking lots about having a consistent mindset, regardless of up or down score, regardless of whether it's the national final or an exhibition game in September," said Josephson. "Really, it's something we've struggled with a lot this semester.

"We did good job of it last weekend and I thought it was a point of emphasis. The guys, top to bottom, didn't waver. They stayed focused on winning each point and they didn't get too up or down no matter what was happening. I was really pleased with that.

"We've been working hard on that and tonight was one of the better displays they've had of that consistency."

Because the match was over so quickly, nobody hit double digits in kills, but Trinity Western had three players hit nine: outside hitters Eric Loeppky and Jacob Kern, and middle Aaron Boettcher, who added a match-high five blocks. Derek Epp set a great game with 30 assists. The Spartans also got plenty from middle Jackson Howe as they overwhelmed the Griffins in the centre of the net.

"Those two veterans and then we have (Pearson) Eshenko at home, who got hurt, those three are all national team type players. They're just incredible," said Josephson. "They're so gifted and when they put so much pressure on their blocking, it just opens up other things.

"You've got to pass well to run the middle and tonight we passed the ball really well. Lots of nights you don't pass that well, but when you do, it's nice to get the big boys some opportunities."

The Griffins didn't pass so well, having tons of trouble with TWU's heavy spin serving attack. They were generally out of system for most of the match.

"There was not one facet of the game where we were close to them at all," lamented Poplawski. "They have serves that you cannot prepare for without a serving machine and we don't have a serving machine. We don't see serves at 100 kilometres an hour in our gym.

"I feel bad for our passers because they're trying to pass something that they've never seen. We cannot prepare for that type of serve because we don't have anyone in our gym that can serve like that."

Josephson was pleased with that aspect of the Spartans game, which paid off in six service aces versus 10 service errors. That all led to TWU posting a .508 hitting efficiency in the match.

"It was a really efficient offence because we passed so well, and I was really pleased with our serving numbers," he explained. "We take a lot risk with our serve and usually we miss a lot more than that. We want to apply a lot of pressure because we're a big blocking team and we get the ball back, we can run our offence."

MacEwan was led by Jordan Peters, who had seven kills, while Max Vriend added six, but their overall team efficiency was .014 and they were thoroughly dominated at the net (10.5 team blocks to 2.0).

"The thing is it wasn't just the serves, it was everything," said Poplawski. "It was their block, their defence, their attention to detail – they out-everything'd us tonight. That's a team that has national championship aspirations and that's how far we are away from that level."

The Griffins will try to regroup for Saturday's rematch (6:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV) by watching film and making some adjustments.

"I'm excited to see what Brad and his staff cook up for tomorrow," said Josephson. "Now that they've seen it live, we're always less scary on the second night because the boogeyman isn't the boogeyman once you've seen what he looks like."