Griffins persevere in tight match to beat Cougars for first time in eight years

Max Vriend led the Griffins with 20 kills as they beat the MRU Cougars 3-2 in their season opener on Friday (Chris Piggott photo).
Max Vriend led the Griffins with 20 kills as they beat the MRU Cougars 3-2 in their season opener on Friday (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

-With files from MRU Athletics

CALGARY – Finding themselves on the right side of a tight match, the MacEwan Griffins kicked off the Canada West men's volleyball season on Friday with a huge win, spoiling the Mount Royal University Cougars' home opener with a 3-2 result (22-25, 28-26, 25-21, 26-28, 15-11).

Too often they've been on the heartbreaking end of matches such as these in recent seasons, so to come out on top is quite a feeling.

"It was a pretty good team effort," said head coach Brad Poplawski of MacEwan's first win over MRU in men's volleyball since both programs were in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference eight years ago.

"Obviously, there are things you can clean up, but overall I was quite pleased with (the match)."

Max Vriend led the Griffins with a game-high 20 kills, while Jordan Peters had a tidy 14 kills on 26 attempts, while adding 12 digs.

It took an entire team effort, though, to win the five-setter.

"It was very close throughout," said Poplawski. "Both teams, at times, had leads and the other team found a way to get back into it.

"Both teams, at times, made a few too many errors and at other times the quality was pretty high."

MRU rallied in the last half of the first set to win 25-22, but MacEwan evened the affair in Set 2 when Peters served an ace.

Set 3 was a deadlock through the technical timeout until the Griffins didn't look back, cruising to a 25-21 win on Trent Mounter's service error.

MacEwan jumped out to an early 5-1 lead in Set 4, but MRU rattled off six-straight points and controlled the set until late when the Griffins rallied from 24-21 down and had a match point to win it, up 26-25. That's when Vriend's serve just missed.

"It was the type of miss that as a coach you're OK with," said Poplawski. "It was an aggressive toss, a great serve and it just missed out the side. Into the net are ones that frustrate you, but when the guy who's leading your team has match point, I think you want him to take a chew. He made a great toss and absolutely ripped it."

Vriend took over in the fifth set anyway to close it out for the Griffins.

Rookie Jefferson Morrow added 10 kllls for MacEwan while Jonathan Mohler had 44 assists, David Morgan chipped in 14 digs and Mark Alexander led the way with three blocks.

"You know what, one of the bright spots for us and a guy who flew under the radar was Jefferson Morrow," said Poplawski. "Our first year Aussie came in and was a real stabilizing influence for us. He had 37 balls and only had four errors in the match. That was nice to see a young guy come in and do some pretty good things.

"I thought our outsides did a good job and Johnny set the ball in a good zone. It really was a team effort tonight. Our middles worked really hard to give us opportunities in transition where their middle had to respect them."

The two teams will meet again on Saturday (5 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op).