Griffins claim a set off Bears and take strides despite 3-1 loss

Alexei Walisser hits against an Alberta double block thrown up by Isaac Heslinga, left, and Cam Kern (Eduardo Perez photo).
Alexei Walisser hits against an Alberta double block thrown up by Isaac Heslinga, left, and Cam Kern (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jason Hills
For MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON — The MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team knew they'd be in tough against the University of Alberta Golden Bears, but they certainly weren't going to be pushovers.

The Griffins held their own against the No.3 ranked team in Canada, including winning a set against Alberta for the first time since Nov.10, 2018, but fell in four sets (25-19, 25-11, 19-25, 25-20) on Friday night at the David Atkinson Gym.

Second-year outside hitter Jefferson Morrow led MacEwan with nine kills and two digs, while fourth-year outside hitter Alexei Walisser recorded eight kills and seven digs in the loss.

The Golden Bears were led by third-year outside hitters Jordan Canham and Braedon Friesen, who led the potent Alberta attack with 19 and 17 kills respectively.

"Our goal this weekend is to compete and play well and try to win. We don't just want to be sparring partners with them, and I thought tonight, we put up a good fight," said Griffins head coach Bradley Poplawski.

"With the way they play and their skill level, they're relentless in that way. They put pressure on you all the time. Our big focus was limiting their runs, and I thought we did a real good job of that in the last two sets."

Alberta jumped out to a big 11-4 lead in the opening set, forcing Poplawski to call a timeout. That sparked the Griffins as they battled back and closed the gap considerably, but their slow start cost them.

Alberta overpowered MacEwan in the second set, with a hitting percentage of 33.3%, and only recorded two attack errors, but the Griffins didn't pull the pin.
In the third set, they took an early 3-2 lead and while Alberta tried hard to overtake the Griffins, MacEwan held the lead the rest of the way.

Morrow made a nice tip at the net to give the Griffins a 10-6 lead, and then with Alberta pressing, Walisser came up with an important kill to give MacEwan a 19-16 lead. He followed it up with an ace and Ethan Nashim had two of his six kills late in the set to preserve the Griffins set win.

"Sometimes when we have had leads in sets, we haven't respected or honoured them. You work hard for a lead, and you want to keep them, and I thought we did well in the (third set) against a front-running team," said Poplawski.

"We led the whole set and there are a lot of positives we can take from that. The stuff we've worked hard in training and put a lot of emphasis on, I saw come through today. It's by far not a finished product, but I saw a lot of growth in our game"

MacEwan carried that momentum into the fourth set and was able to obtain an early lead, but after Canham served one of his five aces in the game, the Golden Bears took the lead at 6-5 and while MacEwan pushed and battled, they weren't able to retake the lead from Alberta.

"It was a tough first two sets, but I thought we showed a lot of character. We showed tonight that we're eager to win. We're willing to grind it out when it's time," said Walisser.

"To get that set win, was a big character moment. It shows we can compete with this team. Now, we have to not be okay with just winning one set, we've got to win an entire game."

Despite their 1-12 record, the Griffins hold down the final playoff spot in the conference. They know that if they put forth an effort like they did against Alberta, over their next five games, they have a good chance of moving up the standings into a better playoff position.

"Our focus right now is continuing to get better every game. We took a positive set tonight, and I am proud that we competed, but it's tough losing," said Poplawski.

"We know we're going to be in tough again tomorrow, but I want to see us continue to grow from this. We hope the lessons we learn from this weekend can really carry us into our last four matches. If we do that, we can set ourselves up for a spot in the playoffs."

MacEwan will wrap up their weekend series with Alberta on Saturday (6:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).