Rookies ignite Griffins as they throw scare in Dinos before losing tight match 3-1

Jefferson Morrow was one of three rookies who made big contributions against Calgary on Saturday (Scott Stewart photo).
Jefferson Morrow was one of three rookies who made big contributions against Calgary on Saturday (Scott Stewart photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

-With files from Dinos Athletics

CALGARY – The future is not only alive and well for the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team, it's here right now.

Three rookies played major roles as the underdog Griffins threw a scare into the homestanding Dinos on Saturday night before eventually losing a tight match 3-1 (20-25, 25-19, 25-22, 27-25).

"We battled so hard," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. "I just feel bad for my guys that they didn't get the result. I'm just really proud of the way they played.

"It was an absolute battle of a game and they did everything we could ask. I'm just really proud of that effort."

Moral victories don't count in the standings unfortunately as the Griffins fell to 1-5 and the Dinos improved to 5-1. But little triumphs can be celebrated nonetheless and for MacEwan, that was the play of rookies Olamide Ajayi, Thomas Watchman and Jefferson Morrow.

Perhaps most impressively, Ajayi made his first career start and put up 17 kills on .387 efficiency, adding three service aces and accounting for 21.0 points. Only fifth-year veteran Max Vriend, who led the Griffins with 24 kills, made a greater offensive impact.

"Ola started his first U SPORTS match and he had 17 kills as a 17-year-old freshman," marveled Poplawski. "He came in and just played unbelievable for us.

"It wasn't just his offence, it was his passing. Every team is going to test the new guy out there and he handled himself way beyond his years. It was a really mature performance from him."

All Watchman did was post the eighth-most assists ever by a Griffins player in a Canada West match with 49 of them in just the second start of his university career. He also added a game-high 13 digs.

"John Mohler broke his thumb against Trinity, so he's out," said Poplawski of his starting setter. "Thomas Watchman, yesterday was his very first time playing in U SPORTS, and he got the start and set wonderful today."

Aussie rookie Morrow, who has seen regular action since the beginning of the season, chipped in six kills, three aces and 10 digs. Mark Alexander was solid in the middle with possibly the best game of his university career with eight kills on a team-high .583 efficiency, adding three blocks.

"When you have two freshmen left sides on the floor and a freshman setter, I'm just really proud of the whole team, but those guys individually, I thought, played beyond their years and, as a coach, it was really rewarding to see that," said Poplawski. "It was really fun watching them play today."

Led by Vriend's six kills in Set 1, the Griffins were in control all the way and wrapped up a 25-20 win.

The teams traded points in the second set until the Dinos pulled away thanks to series of kills by third-year outside hitter Parker Siroishka.

MacEwan surged back from an early deficit in the third set and put up a strong fight but fell just short 25-22. 

With the Dinos up 6-5 in the fourth set, Ajayi sent the Griffins on a three-point run with three consecutive kills to take control of the set. The Dinos rallied back and the teams continued to trade points with the Dinos eventually taking it 27-25 to close out the match.

"The fourth set was back and forth – 29-27. We had 20 kills in the set, which is unbelievable," said Poplawski. "Our offence was just firing. I'm just really proud of the way my guys battled and I thought they deserved a better result today with how well they played."

MacEwan heads into another bye week before finally seeing a home match when they host the Brandon Bobcats on Nov. 22-23.

"Going into another bye week, our schedule really isn't doing us any favours," said Poplawski. "It's not momentum (we can take from this), but I hope it's belief."