Nervous energy hampers Griffins in home-opening loss to Alberta, but large crowd an enduring memory

Jefferson Morrow battles for a ball at the net against Alberta on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).
Jefferson Morrow battles for a ball at the net against Alberta on Friday night (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Buoyed by a raucous crowd of nearly 700 for a volleyball season opener that's been anticipated for more than a year-and-a-half, the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team let the nervous energy get the better of them early against cross-town rival Alberta on Friday.

They settled in eventually, but still suffered a 3-0 loss (25-18, 25-16, 25-18) to the team Canada West coaches voted as the top squad in the loop in their annual preseason poll.

"We were definitely nervous to start," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "And I think that's to be expected. It's been a very, very long time since we have played a game.

"Obviously, U of A is who they are and then there's the pandemic. There was a lot of excitement. Right from warmup we just looked a little bit nervous, so I'm hoping we got that first one under our belts and it's something we have to learn to control."

With seven players making their Canada West debuts, the Griffins competed and showed positive signs in spurts but ultimately weren't at the top level of the Golden Bears.

Playing just eight players in the match, Alberta rolled on the shoulders of Jordan Canham (10 kills and a .571 hitting percentage) and veteran setter Max Elgert's 28 assists.

Jefferson Morrow led the Griffins with eight kills, Ethan Nashim had seven and Alexei Walisser posted six – the latter two players being former ACAC stars, who were seeing Canada West action for the first time.

"I think in spurts there were guys that were good here and there," said Poplawski. "In our passing, Alexei and Jeff did a really good job. U of A has some really good spin servers and really good float servers. They put a lot of pressure on you from the service line.

"All three outsides learned a lot today, I hope. For the most part, Alex (Lyndon, also out of the ACAC) made pretty good choices as our setter. I thought he distributed the ball OK.

"We just need to do a little better job swinging and covering each other – things we work on all the time."

Another big plus for the Griffins, win or lose, was the crowd, which was one of the largest ever in the David Atkinson Gym.

"It was absolutely awesome," said Poplawski. "Obviously, U of A, being who they are, have a lot of fans and they travel well. So, they brought their crowds and I thought we had great support. I don't know if it was students or family, but it was awesome in there tonight. It was such a fun environment.

"It just feels like such a great event when it's like that. It hypes everyone up and for the first time in so long have that be a return to court is a really cool memory I'll have. I missed coaching, our guys missed playing and that was our welcome home moment with such a huge crowd there tonight."

The teams will meet in the rematch on Saturday (3:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).