By Paul Cartledge, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – Pushed to five sets by the feisty MacEwan University Griffins, the No.4 University of Alberta Golden Bears still claimed victory in five sets (25-19, 19-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-6) to earn the weekend sweep and their tenth-straight win over MacEwan, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Staying undefeated against the Griffins in Canada West play, including 6-0 at home, required the offensive efforts of third-year outside hitter Taryq Sani, tallying 19 kills and two aces, while sophomore left side Jackson Kennedy and third-year middle Jacob Deinum notched 18 and 12 kills, respectively. Third-year setter Max Elgert led the team in assists (54), aces (three), and digs (15).
Senior outside hitter Kai Hesthammer had a team-high 15 kills for the visitors, fourth-year outside hitter Max Vriend netting 14 kills while third-year outside hitter Jordan Peters cracked the double-digit barrier with 10. Third-year setter Jonathan Mohler recorded 37 assists.
After outplaying Alberta for stretches in Friday night's game, the Griffins came out strong on Saturday, taking an early 6-1 run for a 7-4 lead in the opening set, but attack errors got the Bears even.
Tied at 14, Kennedy earned two straight points for the Bears with a block assist and a kill, starting an 8-3 run by the home team, leading to an eventual 1-0 set lead when rookie left side Braedon Friesen put his third kill of the set off the MacEwan block and out.
The Bears were the ones committing attack errors in the second set, however, with four straight giving the Griffins the early advantage on the scoreboard before they made five more as part of a 7-0 run by MacEwan to break a 12-12 tie.
Each of those streaks both started with errors at the Alberta service line, so it seemed fitting that Elgert's attempt into the net tied the set score at 1-1.
Both teams improved their attack percentages in the third set, each attacking at 30% or higher, but after the Bears claimed the lead after a short run to make it 6-4, they never gave it up again, Sani doubling his kill count in the match with seven in the third set alone.
The Ajax, Ont. native powered a monstrous kill off of Vriend to set up set point, earning the 2-1 set lead for Alberta by pushing his 14th kill of the match down through the Griffin block.
Hesthammer got the road squad even with a stellar performance in the fourth set, attacking at a blistering 64% with eight kills, including the first and last of the set, his eighth coming off of Kennedy to the crowd on the opposite side.
The fifth and final set was dominated by the Bears, every point earned by their own hand through a kill, a block, or an ace, leaving MacEwan no room for error in an effort to find their first-ever win against their Edmonton-based opponent.
Sani shone in the spotlight in the final moments, putting an ace off of Hesthammer into the antenna for a 14-6 score before pushing another kill through the road team's block to end the match.
Alberta improves to 7-1 on the season while the Griffins fall to 2-6. The Bears head out on the road next weekend to face the Manitoba Bisons while MacEwan takes the "bye" before playing the Thompson Rivers WolfPack in Kamloops, B.C. the following weekend.