Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – It's perhaps a little ambitious to boil a match down to one play, but on Saturday, the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team can point to a regrettable miscommunication at the end of the second set as the harbinger of their demise in a 3-0 loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies (25-17, 26-24, 25-15).
With the score tied 24-24, Mikhail Khan got a piece of Daulton Sinoski's quick hit from the middle, but instead of a Griffins teammate picking it up, the ball fell on the floor between three different players.
"They'd been really beating us up in the middle and then Mickey made a great slow down," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "Then we get a chance basically on a free ball and there's a miscommunication and it falls.
"The things we have control over are communication. So sometimes in practice, coaches are saying 'make sure you communicate, and you can almost see the players roll their eyes, like 'OK, coach.' But when you lose a set 26-24, that's a good example of why coaches do harp on that."
Saskatchewan ended the second set on the next point after an attack error by Max Vriend.
It was as if that was the only true moment the Griffins had a chance to make some noise in the match. They were never really in Sets 1 or 3, so letting their best chance of the match slip away in Set 2 was too devastating to overcome.
"If someone just spoke and made the play, it doesn't guarantee we'd get the point but at least it gives us a chance versus a free ball dropping," said Poplawski. "I think that was a moment that sticks out, for sure, and it kind of encapsulates some of the things we're doing.
"We're a sometimes team right now. When we do the things we're supposed to, it looks good, but it's sometimes."
Saskatchewan head coach Nathan Bennett noted his team's ability to close out Set 2 was a big takeaway for a team that wasn't as composed in two losses at Brandon in the opening weekend of the Canada West season.
"Today, especially, I liked the second set," he said. "Getting into that 23-23 score-line and how they emotionally were able to be confident and calm. I think that was important, where in Brandon we were all over the map like a roller-coaster ride.
"I thought that was a good moment for us to build off of, for sure."
With the result, the Huskies move back to .500 at 2-2, while the Griffins fall to 2-4 with their fourth-straight loss.
As for why Saskatchewan dominated on Saturday, there's a bit of evidence on either side. The Huskies had more digs, more blocks, more kills and a sizzling .320 efficiency. The Griffins, meanwhile, posted the kind of hitting percentage that keeps coaches up at night – a nightmare .084.
"Our offence was terrible, today, frankly," said Poplawski. "It wasn't good enough. They're a very good blocking team. Their middles are big, and they read quite well. Today we got really predictable. I thought we made it easy on them.
"Our passing wasn't as good, so we were in a lot of two-hitter situations. They're really good when they can take a team out of system and close blocks because their middles are big."
Saskatchewan had great success running quick hits in the middle again – none better than a play late in the first set when setter CJ Gavlas contorted his body sideways in the air and sent a rocket set to the middle that hit Sinoski in perfect mid-flight for a kill that landed on the floor practically before the Griffins moved.
"As long as they're on time, he can find them," said Bennett. "That was a great connection. That was an all-world play, so I was pretty happy to watch that."
Gavlas had 29 assists, leading to 10 kills each from Dylan Mortensen and Colin Fraser, while Sinoski had seven on an unstoppable .636 efficiency, adding four blocks. Gavlas also had four blocks as the Huskies seemed to know where the Griffins were going most of the time.
"We were working on the technique of our block and I think it's starting to get there," said Bennett. "In this league, it's a real physical league – every team across the board – but if we're able to be just as physical at the net when we block, I think it helps our defence out.
"Our guys did a good job of putting their hands in the right spots and we were fortunate today."
The Griffins, meanwhile, were led offensively by Kai Hesthammer (nine kills) and defensively by Max Vriend (four blocks).
Both teams are in action next weekend with the MacEwan visiting cross-town Edmonton rival Alberta on Nov. 9-10 with the Huskies hosting the Calgary Dinos on the same dates.