Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – It wasn't the Senior Night celebration the MacEwan Griffins were looking for.
After feting four graduates – Max Vriend, Jonathan Mohler, Mark Ritter and David Morgan – pre-match, the Griffins won the opening set against the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack but wouldn't taste victory again in a 3-1 loss to close out the 2019-20 Canada West men's volleyball season.
The 19-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-20 defeat resigns the Griffins to finishing the campaign on a 10-game losing streak and a 2-20 record.
"My message: we've got to get better," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "We're not even close. I just think the days of us showing up on Aug. 30 for training camp having not touched a volleyball and having done the bare minimum over the summer are over. I think some guys buy into (working hard in the off-season), but not enough. That's a culture piece that we really have to change.
"We had eight new guys to the program this year and this was a big learning lesson for them. Sometimes a kick in the teeth is what you need. I hope that's what motivates this group."
With the win, TRU improves to 7-13 and keeps their playoff hopes alive … at least mathematically. They face a daunting uphill task to sneak into the top eight, though, needing to win at least one, and likely two, against U SPORTS No. 1 Trinity Western in their final weekend Feb. 14-15 to knock Mount Royal University (8-12) out of eighth.
"We have a chip and a chair, I guess," said TRU head coach Pat Hennelly. "The disappointing thing for us is going through the Mount Royal, Winnipeg stretch – we lost all four. I'm always a guy who (believes) in mathematical possibilities, but no one really gives you favours in our league. We have to earn it the hard way now. It would have been nice for us to get one of these wins in the middle of the first semester when we started losing our confidence.
"We're certainly disappointed with where we are and really how we lost some of those crucial games."
On Saturday, at least, Hennelly's team controlled the majority of the match. Outside of the first set, which MacEwan clinched on Jordan Peters' blast off the block from the left side, the Griffins were chasing the rest of the way.
Max Vriend led the Griffins with a game-high 22 kills and 25.0 points in the final match of his Canada West career and moves into the top-20 in the conference in career kills with 1,037 and into 14th in career points with 1,311.0. He also finishes 12th in career blocks with 327.
Vriend also increased his lead atop the conference kills list for 2019-20, finishing with 317 – 48 better than Winnipeg's Daniel Thiessen, who has one more weekend of play left – and also leads Canada West in kills per set with a 4.17 average.
TRU's Sam Taylor Parks increased his fifth-place career blocks total to 394 after five more on Saturday night to pace the WolfPack. Nimo Benne added 17 kills on a .393 hitting percentage.
"He's been great," said Hennelly of Parks. "He's very similar to Max – he was on the all-rookie team in his first year and he gets to be a five-year starter. It's very rare in our league to get that five-year start and he's been steadily piling up points and blocks.
"Sam's been excellent for our program. He's the best blocker we've ever had 15 years in the league."
TRU will have one weekend left to say goodbye to four graduating seniors, including Parks.
For MacEwan seniors Vriend, Mohler, Ritter and Morgan, Saturday night was their last appearance in a Griffins jersey.
"I thank them for their service to MacEwan," said Poplawski. "Unfortunately, because he was injured, Ritter couldn't be on the floor at all tonight.
"The fact that they finished their career together, I hope that's something they look back on and enjoy."