Vriend reaches elite 1000-kill milestone but Griffins lose heartbreaker 3-2 to WolfPack

Max Vriend records his 1,000th career kill in the second set on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).
Max Vriend records his 1,000th career kill in the second set on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Max Vriend crushed the ball off the block from the right side late in the second set on Friday night to become the 24th player in Canada West men's volleyball history to reach 1,000 career kills.

MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski called a timeout as his teammates and brother Eric – an honorary assistant coach on the Griffins – swarmed the fifth-year senior in celebration as a standing ovation from the David Atkinson Gym faithful rained down on them.

"It was pretty cool," said Vriend, who received an autographed volleyball from his teammates following the game. "It caught me off guard, for sure. It's cool to share that with (my teammates) because they were the ones that got me there."

Unfortunately, for the Griffins, the night didn't end in fairy-tale fashion as they lost a heartbreaker in five sets to the visiting Thompson Rivers University WolfPack (23-25, 27-25, 25-19, 23-25, 16-14).

With the result, MacEwan falls to 2-19, while TRU improves to 6-13.

"The year obviously hasn't gone close to what we expected, so it's a long year for the guys, but as a coach you can't be disappointed in that effort tonight," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski.

"To me, the turning point was after Max's (celebration), you have to win that set, you have to find a way. And we weren't able to celebrate and then get back to business. I think that's kind of been with us this whole year, if things go off the rails, we can't get it back on track quick enough."

The Griffins were up 1-0 in the match and after Vriend recorded his 11th kill of the night to reach the elite milestone, they were up 22-18 in the second set. TRU rallied back to win it 27-25 and took the wind out of their sails.

"Not a lot of people have accomplished that feat and I wanted to recognize it," said Poplawski. "We were in a good spot in that set at 22-18. I just wish we could have closed it out after. That's disappointing, but putting that aside … when you think Max, in his first three years, was predominantly a middle, I think that makes the accomplishment a little bit more special.

"You want a team of Max Vriends – a guy that grinds and works that hard. I'm really happy for him, really proud of him. That was a special moment and something he'll definitely remember."

Vriend finished with a match-high 26 kills on 66 swings for the Griffins, several of them of the floor-denting variety, as he stretched his Canada West-leading total to 295 for the season.

Griffins teammates congratulate Max Vriend after he became the 24th player in Canada West history to reach 1,000 career kills on Friday night (Robert Antoniuk photo).

"We know what Max is like," said TRU head coach Pat Hennelly. "I'm not surprised he's at 1,000 kills. He gave us everything we could handle. We knew they weren't happy about last weekend and that's what I expected.

"For our guys, we haven't had great Fridays on the road, so I was happy we stayed in there. Full value to Grant MacEwan because they gave us all we could handle."

MacEwan battled back to force a fifth set and even had a match point, up 15-14 in the fifth set, before the WolfPack rallied to win.

TRU was led by their own budding star in first year Nimo Benne, who had 24 kills and is third in the conference with 234 for the season.

"He's got a big arm and sometimes it doesn't even look like he's going to hit the ball hard and it just explodes off his arm," said Hennelly. "People that watched tonight saw two premier guys that are international volleyball players."

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

Max Vriend poses with his family following the game where he reached 1,000 career kills at the David Atkinson Gym on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).