By Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – Though the MacEwan University Griffins won their first-ever set in Canada West play at the home of the No.4 University of Alberta Golden Bears, the hosts preserved their undefeated match record in a tough four-set win (26-24, 22-25, 27-25, 27-25), Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Improving to 5-0 all-time when defending home court against the Griffins, senior left side Alex McMullin and third-year outside hitter Taryq Sani led the offence for the Golden Bears, McMullin netting 20 kills and a block assist while Sani recorded 18 kills, two aces, one block solo, and one block assist. Fifth-year setter Luke Brisbane netted 25 assists.
Outside hitters Kai Hesthammer (senior) and Max Vriend (fourth-year) earned 16 kills apiece for the road team, third-year outside hitter Jordan Peters adding 11 while sophomore setter Caleb Weiss notched 43 assists.
Coming in to the weekend on a four-game losing streak, MacEwan was fighting hard in the opening set, creating a see-saw battle with Alberta that led to an even score 14 times. Yet two late Griffin service errors shifted the momentum toward the Golden Bears, McMullin sending two consecutive kills to the MacEwan court soon after to earn the 1-0 set lead.
Down 12-9 in the second set, a MacEwan timeout paved the way to a 7-3 run for the Griffins to erase the deficit, using a subsequent Sani error at the service line to start a 5-1 run and almost cement their historic set win.
A Sani power kill down the sideline to improve the Bears to 22-24 threatened to swing the momentum back to Alberta but a double-touch violation on a set by Alberta third-year middle Lucas Dykstra gave the Griffins the historic set win and, more importantly, tied the set score at 1-1.
The third set continued the ongoing back-and-forth battle on the scoreboard, though the Bears didn't do themselves any favours by making seven service errors to keep MacEwan close and making four attack errors as part of a 6-0 Griffin run to let the road team pull ahead to 23-21.
After Alberta managed to tie it once more, Vriend and Bears rookie outside hitter Jordan Canham exchanged kills before Sani got two straight, ricocheting the second off the block and behind it to empty court to get Alberta the 2-1 set lead.
Small momentum swings started the final set, but neither squad could find an edge to build up a sizeable lead, bringing the teams to a 25-25 score when Weiss and fourth-year outside hitter Carter McIntyre both went up for a free ball at the net, McIntyre overpowering his opponent's simultaneous block attempt with his own to earn the set-point advantage.
On a long rally with both sides negating tough kills by their adversary, the final point came anticlimactically when Hesthammer sent his attempt into the net.
Alberta improves to 6-1 on the season while the Griffins fall to 2-5. The two teams will meet again on Saturday for game two of the weekend series, game time starting at approximately 6:30 p.m. MT.