Unable to take advantage of Vriend's big night, rare miscues from Bobcats, Griffins fall 3-0

Max Vriend unloads one of his match-high 16 kills on Friday night. He was a one-man army, but the Griffins couldn't get anyone going in a 3-0 loss to Brandon (Eduardo Perez photo).
Max Vriend unloads one of his match-high 16 kills on Friday night. He was a one-man army, but the Griffins couldn't get anyone going in a 3-0 loss to Brandon (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – It's not often a team of Brandon's calibre – (defending Canada West men's volleyball champions, currently ranked No. 2 in the country) – leaves the door open in a match through uncharacteristic errors like they did Friday night at MacEwan.

But the Griffins, finally playing in their home opener more than a month into the season, were unable to take advantage, falling in straight sets in front of a crowded house of 582 souls at the David Atkinson Gym.

The Bobcats found a way to grind out a 25-16, 25-23, 25-22 result, which pushes their record to 8-1. MacEwan falls to 1-6.

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"It's disappointing because Brandon made some errors they don't typically make," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski of the second and third sets, which were up for grabs. "We had a few chances and the things that held us back are things that we really stress and should be better at.

"It's a painful lesson to learn. I thought we competed quite well against a damn good team, it's just disappointing."

Brandon's grinding victory also included finding a way to win when the best player on the court was on the other side. MacEwan's Max Vriend was a one-man army, knocking down a match-high 16 kills, often into the teeth of triple blocks.

"Max was phenomenal," agreed Brandon head coach Grant Wilson. "It didn't matter what we did in terms of adjustments. He found a way to score and full credit to him. He's a great player and he certainly showed that tonight."

The Bobcats have their own great players, who ultimately came through in the clutch to secure the victory. Reigning Canada West MVP Elliott Viles and 2018-19 second team all-star Seth Friesen each had 11 kills, while second-year outside hitter Robin Baghdady produced half of their 10 service aces with a bomb from the line that gave the Griffins fits all night.

"I thought we did a pretty good job of sharing the wealth," said Wilson. "Seth Friesen and Elliott Viles both played really well. That's kind of typical. We need them to play well for us to succeed and they did that tonight."

In the first set, the error meter definitely pointed in MacEwan's direction as they struggled to click into game mode in their first home match since last February. Brandon opened up a five-point lead midway through the set and closed out a nine-point win when Viles ripped one off the block.

Through multiple Bobcats errors, the second set was there for the taking with the teams tied 23-23, but a service and attacking error on MacEwan's part proved to be the final undoing.

Set 3 also could have gone either way with Vriend getting loose for the Griffins on several big kills, a service error – one of nine charged to MacEwan in the match – ended the night. The Bobcats savoured a win when they were less than perfect on the evening.

"That's Canada West," said Wilson. "Everybody can beat everybody and we're fully aware of that. We've got to push ourselves to be better every time we're out there. That was certainly the case tonight. We had to push ourselves because they were giving us a good push. Once again, we were fortunate to pull it out."

Ultimately, the Griffins just couldn't get anyone else going besides their fifth-year senior. He averaged 5.33 kills per set in the contest.

"A team that's as good at blocking as them and the fact they could key on one guy and he was still able to put up those numbers is pretty impressive," said Poplawski. "When you have a guy going that well in volleyball, it should open up for other guys because they're leaking that way.

"We just couldn't get anybody else going with him. You can't be a one-man show. It's good enough to get you close, but you're not going to win," he added. "Again, I'm really happy with Max. That's two matches in a row he's been just phenomenal for us, but we need some other guys offensively pulling the rope with him."

The teams will meet in the rematch on Saturday (6:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).