Despite straight-sets defeat, Griffins play best match in months, pushing No. 1 Brandon

Max Vriend blasts one past a Brandon double block on Friday night. He had a match-high 14 kills (Milana Paddock, Brandon University Athletics).
Max Vriend blasts one past a Brandon double block on Friday night. He had a match-high 14 kills (Milana Paddock, Brandon University Athletics).

MacEwan Athletics and Brandon Athletics

BRANDON, Man. – On the scoresheet and in the standings, it will be recorded as the 10th-straight loss for the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team – a 3-0 defeat to the No. 1-ranked Brandon Bobcats on Friday night.

But dive into game tape and you'd see a Griffins team that just played their best match since December. They pushed the 19-2 Bobcats in all three sets, falling 25-21, 25-22, 25-22.

"Honestly, we played pretty well," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "The scores were 21, 22 and 22 against the No. 1 team in the country. I was really happy with our level of play. I think they're just a really good team. It was definitely our best performance this semester for sure."

So, even though the Griffins fell to 3-18 and will miss the playoffs for a fifth-straight season, the effort shown against powerhouse Brandon will not be forgotten.

"We're obviously not where we want to be," said Poplawski. "We had much, much higher expectations for our season. I know the players, I'm sure are disappointed, but I think it showed a lot of character for them to prepare the way we did this week and then to come out and play that way. I'm proud of our guys' performance. They did pretty much all the stuff we asked them to do.

"At the end of a season where all of us had higher expectations, I know sometimes it can be tough. The easy thing would have been to not play the way they did, but I was really impressed with the guys' attention to detail and their attitude throughout the match. I think that was really nice to see as a coach."

With the result, Brandon clinched first-place in the regular season standings for the first-time in program history, while extending their winning streak to 15 straight matches.

The Bobcats secured home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs starting with the quarter-final series next week.

"It is great to wrap up first place and secure home-court running into the playoffs," said fifth-year co-captain James Weir. "We have been really good at home this season and to have that advantage is huge coming into crunch time."

Friday's victory also saw Weir reach a significant individual milestone. He became BU's all-time leader in career blocks, surpassing the record previously held by BU Sports Wall of Famer Joel Small at 317.

Brandon's attack efficiency in the first set was a strong .419, but their play wasn't clean at the service line with seven errors. Down the stretch, the Bobcats pulled through with a 4-0 run.

The second set went down to the wire. The Griffins trailed 23-22, before a missed MacEwan serve gave the Bobcats set point and the momentum needed to secure the middle frame.

In the third set, the Bobcats had a 6-1 surge to give them a six-point lead early on. Brandon maintained that advantage going into the technical timeout.

BU built their lead to eight points, but the Griffins rallied with an 8-3 run to cut the deficit to 23-20.

An ensuing service error by MacEwan put the Bobcats in the driver's seat and Brandon held down the fort with the Griffins fighting off two match points.

Brandon balanced out the offence with Elliott Viles, Robin Baghdady and Weir recording 10 kills each. Reece Dixon delivered a double-double with 42 assists and 13 digs as the Bobcats improved to 19-and-2.

Max Vriend had a match-high 14 kills to pace the Griffins, moving him within striking distance of MacEwan's single season kills record held by teammate Kai Hesthammer, who had 256 in 2016-17. Vriend currently has 241 on the season. Vriend and teammate Jordan Peters are also within one service ace each of a single season record they share for most in MacEwan's Canada West history (17).

Griffins libero David Morgan is also closing in on a school record – with six digs on Friday, he's within three of the single season mark of 179 shared by Hesthammer (2017-18) and Matthew Mohler (2015-16).

"Max definitely carried some offence for us and they were definitely planning for him to get the ball," said Poplawski. "I thought at times they did a good job on him, but Max got some big side outs for us and some big kills that gave us the ability to push them a little bit. He had a good night.

"I thought David was a little more relaxed defensively and that allowed him to make some good digs," he added. "He even had a kill tonight. It hit his shoulder and landed in the back corner – the rare libero kill. I thought he was in control tonight. As a libero, you don't always stand out, but I know the guys on the team appreciate what he brings. He was our captain of serve-reception today and he did a good job of getting the guys set up on serve receive today. Defensively, I thought he did a pretty good job as well."

Brandon and MacEwan meet in the rematch on Saturday (5:45 p.m. MT, Canada West TV) to close out the regular season schedule.