Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Jordan Peters elevated into the stratosphere and unleashed a rocket off the back of a defender and into the seats – a knockout punch that decided a marathon Canada West men's volleyball match 3-2 in favour of the MacEwan Griffins over the Winnipeg Wesmen on Friday night.
"Someone wanted that," chuckled MacEwan teammate Kai Hesthammer of a kill so hard the defender ducked rather than make a game attempt to retrieve it.
"It's a good feeling," he added of seeing the ball sail into the stands to decide the match. "It's a sigh of relief that we got the point and it's over."
To say the match was back and forth would be an understatement – more of a boxing bout where the fighters stand toe-to-toe for two hours each landing haymakers. Rarely did either team go on a run of more than a couple points at a time and, fittingly, neither squad was able to separate from the other in the fifth set until the final whistle sounded.
MacEwan won 25-22, 17-25, 25-19, 17-25, 15-13 to snap an eight-game losing streak and improve to 3-8, while the Wesmen see their record fall to 3-6.
"I thought it was awesome for the guys," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "Unfortunately, we've been on the wrong side of some close sets this year."
Most notably, MacEwan dropped a five-set heartbreaker against cross-town rival Alberta earlier this season. But the fortitude they showed on Friday against Winnipeg will serve them well in their development.
Hesthammer led the Griffins with 19 kills – including several crafty cross-court off-speed shots that put the Wesmen off balance – while Peters had 16 on a top-shelf .419 hitting percentage.
"Kai's a P2 – he's two rotations away from the setter," said Poplawski. "So, in that rotation, you're typically a guy that really needs to pass really well, hit smart shots and hit pipe. I thought he did all of those things well today.
"It was a great example of really solid P2 play from him."
Daniel Thiessen led the Wesmen with 18 kills, 12 digs and four blocks, with Keegan Teetaert chipping in 12 kills and a game-high six blocks.
Of particular importance to the final momentum swing of the match in favour of the home side was a fourth set Griffins' rally that set the table for Peters' final dramatic game-winning swing.
Down 2-1 in the match and against the ropes, Winnipeg flew to a 12-3 fourth-set lead and were up 16-6 at the technical timeout.
"We didn't do anything in particular," said Wesmen head coach Larry McKay. "The other team made a few mistakes."
But the Griffins' game settled down and, rather than wilt away and limp into the fifth set, they showed some fight with an 8-4 rally. Although MacEwan lost the set, they jumped into the scrapper's mindset they would need to survive a tooth-and-nail fifth.
"In the fourth set things started to slip for us," said Poplawski. "We were out of it early, but we said 'we don't need to win this set, we need to build some momentum. We need to get something going for the fifth.'
"We put (Jordan) Krause in and I thought he was that sparkplug for us. He did some good things, which is why we wanted to keep him out there in the fifth.
"In the fifth, we thought it would be a battle and it was. I don't think anyone had more than a two-point lead the whole time."
Spearheaded by some solid serving from Adrian Dyck, Winnipeg led most of the first set, but ran out of gas at the end and were lapped by MacEwan, owners of a 5-0 run to close out the win.
The clutch points all went Winnipeg's way in Set 2, though, with Teetaert putting it away on a middle attack.
MacEwan won back the momentum in Set 3 with some crafty Hesthammer kills and took a 2-1 lead in the match when Thiessen was blocked by Mark Alexander and then put his next attack wide.
That set up the dramatic finish, which went in MacEwan's favour. Their fifth set win was won on gumption and great blocking before Peters put the exclamation mark on it.
"We had a good start and at the switch we were up 8-6," said Poplawski. "We let it slip a little bit, but then we battled back with a couple of really good block moves. It's something we've focused on lately is our block positioning and footwork.
"We were able to get in their face a little bit and get some positive touches, which allowed the chance for Petey to hit that ball."
The teams will meet again on Saturday (6:30 p.m., Canada West TV). McKay will be looking for improvements from his squad.
"Everything," he responded when asked about what they need to clean up for the rematch. "We have to be a little better in every area."