Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Entering the weekend leading Canada West in blocks per set, it was only a matter of time before the real Manitoba Bisons showed up at the David Atkinson Gym.
Blocking MacEwan's attacks over and over on Saturday night, they cruised to a comfortable straight-sets victory (25-11, 25-16, 25-18) and completed a weekend sweep over the Griffins.
With the winning weekend, Manitoba ended a four-game losing streak and got back to .500 at 5-5 in the Canada West men's volleyball standings heading into the semester break. MacEwan is now 1-9.
"It does a lot," head coach Garth Pischke said when asked how it sets them up for the rest of the season. "I was really happy. We've been changing things around and couldn't really find the right chemistry.
"I think we had a really good attitude on the floor this weekend and it really showed. Guys were playing for each other rather than themselves. That's such a big part of team sport. We have to have that, and it made each every guy better."
MacEwan just wasn't the same team that pushed Manitoba to the limit in a four-set loss on Friday. And for good reason; the Griffins were so banged up with injuries they played the match with only two healthy middles and much of it with third-string rookie setter Brody Robinson – seeing the first action of his Canada West career when Thomas Watchman, who had been filling in for starter Jonathan Mohler, was injured in the opening set.
"We had another injury in match, so we're down to four guys in casts and one concussion on our team," said head coach Brad Poplawski. "It's just kind of been a semester or injury for us.
"I think only three guys that started tonight were actually even dressed when we played Mount Royal in the first game of the year. We lost another one last night (Noah Johnson). We went into this match with only two middles."
Manitoba was also without a key player in Brendan Warren, who led Canada West in blocks/set in 2018-19, and were still able to stuff much of what MacEwan was trying to do with a terrific blocking performance.
"We've had a good history of that the last three years," said Pischke.
"I used to be a middle blocker for 100 years with the national team and I kind of pride myself on that," he added. "If I know how to teach something, that's what it is. Hopefully, that has something to do with it. We work hard on it for sure."
Kevin Negus led the Bisons with 12 kills, while Jon Laube chipped in 11 to go with two aces and a team-high seven digs. Jack Mandryk had 33 assists in three sets of work and was one of three Bisons with three blocks in the match.
Manitoba's service pressure caused trouble for MacEwan all night – no more was that apparent than when the Bisons closed the opening set on a stunning 17-2 run. But there was more that sunk the Griffins.
"It kind of felt like whack-a-mole a bit tonight," said Poplawski. "It was passing, then we stabilized passing. Then it was attack, then we stabilized attack. Then we lost our passing again and our block went away. Then our defence. It was like as soon as we solved one problem, two more sprung up."
As a result, the Bisons held Max Vriend to only eight kills a night after he rained down 30 on them.
"We did a better job on him, but I think it was serving pressure. We had a lot more serving pressure tonight and that gave us a chance to get two guys on him all the time."
Both teams will return to action on Jan. 3-4 to kick off the second semester – Manitoba at home against Calgary and MacEwan on the road at Saskatchewan.