Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Max Vriend was raining down kills for the MacEwan Griffins in the middle as they went up 1-0 over the visiting UBC-Okanagan Heat with an inspired 25-23 win in the first set on Saturday night.
With another lead in the second, they appeared on their way to taking a 2-0 stranglehold when the wheels just simply fell off.
Led by a huge game from Lars Bornemann (23 kills, with .373 efficiency), the Heat rallied back to win the second set and rode the momentum to a 3-1 win (23-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-19).
"We stopped playing," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "We worked hard to build that lead and didn't respect it. You build a lead like that doing the right things and then our team is very … shaky, not confident with leads, it feels like.
"We're very comfortable being down four or five points it seems like. We're not very good front-runners. That's about the fifth time this year we've had a lead of four or five points."
UBCO head coach Brad Hudson said it took a while for his squad to come around to their game in the match, but Bornemann – their fifth-year outside hitter kills leader from Victoria, B.C. – kept them on task until others stepped in to help carry the load.
"That's a man's volleyball game, right? When he hits 23 for 51 and hits .373, those are all really big numbers," said Hudson. "To hit .373 in this league is significant and to do it against a team that's really good defensively in their block D (is impressive). They also got served a lot. So, he clearly had to carry some pressure.
"When we weren't good, he's someone we could rely on and obviously as we stabilized we found some more people. In the fourth set, Devon (Cote) came along and showed himself and really contributed offensively."
Cote had 12 kills and 10 digs, while Jon Russo also stepped in with 11 kills and nine digs. Eli Risso had 20 kills, Josh Harvey had six blocks, and setters Morgan Nichols (25 assists) and Lucas Robertson (21) combined to set up a varied attack.
The biggest problem for the Griffins, said Poplawski, was they didn't have enough going behind Vriend. The third-year middle had a big game with 11 kills on .450 efficiency, while adding five blocks.
"Max Vriend had a great night for us," he said. "That was our game plan going in – we were going to feed Max. We saw some matchups we liked with him. He put up some great numbers, but this is a sport where it's not just one guy. You usually need two and three guys going and we just had not enough from everyone – too many hitters again in the negatives.
"When your M1 can put up those numbers, that should open things up … and guys didn't capitalize on that."
Added Hudson: "Max is honestly one of the best middles in the league. He's terrific for just a young guy. So, he's someone you really to plan for offensively and defensively. We tried to be very aware when he was in the front row because he's hugely impactful and hugely important to their team emotionally, as well. For sure, we needed to run some offence away from him."
When the Griffins wrapped up the first set on a net violation, they stayed in control of the match in the second set. After giving up a 5-0 run out of the technical timeout, the Griffins righted the ship and were seemingly going to close it out before committing back-to-back untimely serving and attacking errors to lose the set.
"It's the same thing every weekend," said Poplawski. "Our highlight reel's amazing, but the bad things we do, the system errors and technical errors we make are so bad. And they're at bad times.
"That, to me, is a big one. It's just one point, but it's important moments in the match. We're in those moments and we know it's important, but we don't … it's not even they made a play – we made really bad errors."
UBCO was better down the stretch in the fourth set, closing it out when Bornemann put an overbump down from the middle.
And in the fifth, the Heat built an early lead and never relinquished it, ending the game when Cote drilled a kill from the right side.
With the result, the Griffins fall to 0-6, while UBCO improves to 3-5.
MacEwan also got 14 kills and 13 digs from rookie Ryan Zachary, while fifth-year outside hitter Kai Hesthammer had 13 kills and 14 digs. Caleb Weiss had a game-high 32 assists.
Next up for the Griffins is a visit to Manitoba Nov. 17-18, while UBCO heads into a bye week before resuming action vs. Regina on Nov. 24-25.