Griffins unable to sustain long enough to push Golden Bears in another straight-sets defeat

Max Vriend hits against Alberta's block on Saturday. He finished with a match-high 11 kills, but the Griffins lost in straight sets (Eduardo Perez photo).
Max Vriend hits against Alberta's block on Saturday. He finished with a match-high 11 kills, but the Griffins lost in straight sets (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Not content with one straight-sets win over the MacEwan Griffins, the visiting Alberta Golden Bears went to another level in repeating the feat on Saturday night at the David Atkinson Gym.

Outside of some trouble in Set 2, they cruised relatively unscathed to a 25-13, 25-22, 25-16 win and improved to 12-4 in the Canada West men's volleyball standings, dropping MacEwan to 2-14.

"Terry (Danyluk) has a saying that we've got to be a two-day horse," said Alberta head coach Brock Davidiuk of the team's longtime former bench boss, who is now its general manager. "I think the approach our guys took to today was being a two-day horse. We won yesterday, but that doesn't mean anything to today.

"I thought our prep was really good at morning practice, guys were very focused. And I think that led to guys coming with a clean slate – they've got to do it again."

They ripped out of the gate with that mantra, taking a 16-7 lead into the technical timeout of the opening set. Jordan Canham wrapped it up not long after that on Alberta's second set point attempt when he found the floor on a cross-court jab.

"I just think a big part is U of A raised their level today," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "They were better than yesterday. At times, they can just reach a level we can't maybe compete at right now."

It wasn't for lack of trying. The Griffins got into a rhythm in the second set and led for a good portion of it, taking a 16-13 advantage into the technical timeout. But, similar to the third set on Friday, Alberta grabbed the late clutch points.

"I think it was a tenuous grasp of control," said Poplawski. "U of A, when they decide to play, they can maybe just do things we're not able to stop.

"One of the strengths of their team is their middle pipe and that's kind of how they closed that set out. They went heavy middle, heavy pipe and we just didn't have an answer for it."

Davidiuk wants the team to bottle that resilience. Their response to adversity this weekend was among the best he's seen from his troops this season.

"We definitely had a hiccup in the second and that was tail-spinning, but our guys weathered the storm," he said. "My question to them is 'what did we do? How were we able to come back in the second?' Because we're trying to bottle whatever that is and control that more often."

Alberta built off that with a 9-1 run to start the third set and wrapped up a big win on back-to-back Lucas Dykstra kills in the middle.

Jackson Kennedy led the Golden Bears with 10 kills on a ridiculous .769 hitting efficiency, while fourth-year middle George Hobern had a strong eight-kill, seven block effort while hitting at .700.

Max Vriend led the Griffins as he does on most nights, hammering home a match-high 11 kills, while Jordan Peters chipped in nine.

Ultimately, the Griffins couldn't sustain, though, when they did some good things. Repeatability in volleyball is a cruel reality of a sport that demands it.

"At times our blocking was a little bit better today," said Poplawski. "We were, at times, undisciplined, but that was a focus for us. I always hate having to preface it with 'at times' because we can't do it (all the time). That's the unfortunate thing is you have to do it over and over."

The Griffins will try again next weekend when they visit Winnipeg for a pair of matches on Jan. 24-25. Alberta will host Manitoba on the same dates.