Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – An ability to hang with the Saskatchewan Huskies deep into sets belied how badly the MacEwan Griffins struggled to block the visitors on Friday night.
The Huskies attacked at will – with a .422 team efficiency – in a 3-0 triumph over the Griffins (25-23, 25-21, 25-18) for their first 'W' of the Canada West men's volleyball season.
Third-year setter CJ Gavlas set a masterful game with 40 assists to set up Colin Fraser and Dylan Mortensen for 13 kills each and helping Daulton Sinoski have a dominant day in the middle with 10 kills.
"That's something he does every day," said Saskatchewan head coach Nathan Bennett of Gavlas. "I consider CJ one of the best, if not the best setter in our league, maybe even the country. We have some riches there in that position, so that's nice.
"Overall, coming off the Brandon weekend where we came up against a real strong opponent and saw what the benchmark is, the difference that put us over the top today is our reception – night and day from what we had a couple of weeks ago," he added after the Huskies improved to 1-2 on the season. "We just passed really well, which gave CJ and opportunity to set the table for the guys.
"I thought it was a whole team effort and they were disciplined in their jobs. Everybody had a great night."
Kai Hesthammer led the Griffins with 10 kills in the defeat, while Caleb Weiss had 30 assists. MacEwan's offence wasn't the problem, though.
"We didn't block or defend," said head coach Brad Poplawski. "They had too many kills. It puts too much pressure on your side-out game, so you can play with a team for a while, but eventually when they're putting up numbers like that … we can't have a team hit 42 per cent against us.
"That's a testament to their offence, but also shows just how bad our block defence is and how our easy our serving is because we're not putting them in any trouble. We're very easy to play against right now. That's the problem."
MacEwan, which falls to 2-3 after the loss, struggled to defend the middle early in the match and by the end of it were getting ripped from all sides, able to just record 5.0 team blocks in the contest. They stayed close, though, as their offence hit back, fading late in each set due to some untimely errors and an inability to slow down the Huskies.
"Offensively we're good," said Poplawski. "We're siding out, we're doing all that, but our block defence/serve game isn't good enough. Teams are putting up really big numbers against us.
"We saw it last (weekend) against Manitoba when they were hitting 36 per cent against us. You'll never win if teams are scoring that much against you."
In the first set, the Griffins held a 22-21 lead, but the Huskies bore down on the late points, blocking Jordan Peters to take it 25-23.
In the second set, MacEwan struggled to defend the middle and fell behind 24-20 before Gavlas ended it on a dump shot (25-21).
In the third set, the Griffins led 16-15 at the technical timeout, but were outscored 10-2 down the stretch and saw their night end on a Mortensen kill (25-18).
The Griffins will look for a rebound in Saturday's rematch (1:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym).
"We have to serve tougher," said Poplawski. "That's a big part and then I don't think we're very disciplined with our blocking in any respect. We aren't very disciplined with our read, with our hand position, body position. It's a lot of things.
"We're touching a few things, but they're going block-out every time, which means we're not in control and not pressing."