Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Improving their hitting efficiency even further north of a sizzling .500 than their clinical 3-0 win over the MacEwan Griffins on Friday, the Trinity Western Spartans completed a weekend sweep with another straight-sets triumph on Saturday at the David Atkinson Gym.
Hitting at .515, bombing eight service aces in three sets and beating the Griffins in the team blocking game 7.0 to 3.0, the Spartans again showed why they are ranked No. 2 in the U SPORTS men's volleyball top-10.
Their 25-14, 25-17, 25-20 victory pushes their record to 16-4, second-best in the Canada West conference. MacEwan falls to 3-17 and will miss the playoffs.
"I thought the guys did similar to what we worked on last night," said TWU head coach Ben Josephson on their search for consistency. "That's three matches in a row.
"The quote is 'first you make your habits, then your habits make you.' With three good mental matches in a row, it's become a habit. Now we can rely that that's going to be there."
Eric Loeppky led the Spartans with nine kills and three aces, while Jackson Howe was strong in the middle for a second-straight night with nine kills (on a red-hot .900 efficiency), adding three blocks.
Jordan Krause led the Griffins with nine kills, while Max Vriend chipped in seven on a solid .417 efficiency and added two blocks. Playing in his final home match, graduating senior Kai Hesthammer had six kills.
The Griffins certainly had some moments, particularly when they led the third set early, but didn't show enough consistency to truly challenge the Spartans.
"Volleyball isn't a sport of a highlight reel," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "We can't score two quick goals and go into a prevent defence. It's not hockey. We can't just ride a hot goalie.
"You have to repeat things. To win a match, you have to score 75 points somehow. So, you need that repeatability. Our good stuff's always been very good, and our highlight-reel stuff has been good. It's just good teams, as we see, can repeat it and do it over and over and over again. That's what makes them hard to play against because they don't go away.
"I still think we go away at times when pressure's applied to us."
Case in point was Set 3 when MacEwan finally provided some push back after getting generally steamrolled by the Spartans in the first two sets. Behind some solid serving and passing, the Griffins built a 13-8 lead and held a 16-13 advantage at the technical timeout before the wheels fell off.
TWU went on a 5-0 run to take control of the set and never looked back, winning the final four points to end the match.
"Obviously, that's indicative of their level of play. That's no accident," said Poplawski. "They are who they are and that's a pretty damn good team. They're physical.
"Again, we had some success in the set doing some proper things, but you saw how it eroded – we lost our passing. That's how a 16-13 lead becomes 18-16 for them like that."
Josephson chalked up MacEwan's third set success to better serving, which put the Spartans on their heels until they adjusted.
"We got a lot of results this weekend on our serving, so they had to play a lot of high ball, which made our block defence pretty formidable," he said. "But in the third set, they passed a lot better and they were getting the ball past our block fairly easily.
"Once our defenders started to make some plays and we got some more middle balls, then it started to roll, and we got the result.
"Games kind of go in that ebb and flow," he continued. "It's all about service pressure and reception consistency. We controlled most of that this weekend, which is why we won the match. But you could see whenever they applied consistent service pressure, the game was really close."
The ability for the Spartans to adjust to that and overcome mid-set bodes well for them as the season heads into crunch time and they vie for conference and national titles.
"That's the important part of it because down the stretch and in the playoffs, it's the second time we've seen everybody," Josephson explained. "We all have 22 matches of data and there's no secrets anymore. It's really a game of cat and mouse. Who can make the adjustments faster minimizes the runs you give up and maximize the runs you take.
"That's what playoffs is all about, so having our guys be able to adapt quickly tonight is a good sign that maybe we'll be able to do that in the playoffs."
MacEwan has now lost nine straight and has yet to win in the second semester after building some momentum with some strong performances before Christmas. Poplawski chalks it up to a 23-day layoff they had in December over exams. They haven't found their previous form since.
"We were playing some really good ball first semester and really playing better each week," he said. "I can handle losing when you play and a team's just better than you. But we've regressed since the first semester and that's unfortunate.
"I thought we had a chance to keep building and improving. I don't know why but just coming off the break, our passing has regressed. Everything goes from that. It affects our setting, it affects our offence, it affects our timing, it affects balls we're giving up, which then affects our block defence. It's too bad."
MacEwan will close out the season on Feb. 15-16 with a visit to Brandon (18-2), while Trinity Western returns home to host Manitoba (7-13).