Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Due to various ailments, the list of players in street clothes during Friday's men's volleyball match between the MacEwan Griffins and Mount Royal University Cougars almost read like a Canada West all-star announcement.
Sidelined for MRU – standout setter Tanner Greves and Canada West kills leader Tyler Schmidt
On the bench for MacEwan – top kill threats and veteran outsides Max Vriend and Kai Hesthammer.
Something from 'The Replacements' would have been a fitting soundtrack for a gem of a match featuring long rallies, thunderous kills and inspired diving digs, eventually won by MRU 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 25-18).
"It was an interesting match," said Cougars head coach Shawn Sky. "The comment I made to Brad (Poplawski, Griffins head coach) afterwards was it certainly wasn't the lineups that we prepared for.
"But you know what, great compete by both teams. Here's why it's a team game. You challenge guys to step up and we've got some guys that have been very eagerly waiting and more than capable and they did a tremendous job stepping up tonight."
So, the boxscores for both teams looked a little unusual, far off of a familiar script.
MacEwan was led by Jordan Krause and his 17 kills from the prominent Vriend right-side position. A week ago, he was subbing in off the bench. Two days ago, he was supposed to be playing left side for the injured Hesthammer.
"With Max not being out there, Krause didn't even train as a right side all week, so for him to come out there after basically one day on the right, I thought he did an awesome job," said Poplawski. "That was nice to see. We've talked about his energy, but it's another thing to start a match and sustain it."
Jordan Peters added 16 kills for the Griffins, while Mark Ritter chipped in three kills and a team-high 14 digs in his first start for the Griffins in five years. Recovered from injuries earlier in the year, Jacob McIntyre played for the first time in nearly two months while Tyler Jodoin saw his first action of the season.
"Neither team had the lineup we prepared for," said Poplawski. "That's why you train. Guys look for opportunity. I thought the guys they put out there did a good job and I thought at times the guys we put out there did a good job."
MRU, meanwhile, was led by backup setter Jackson Brennan with a game-high 48 assists. Trent Mounter topped the kills ledger with 18, while senior Quinn Bromley, who entered the contest with just six kills to his name all season, had 13.
"That's the beauty of having … we're very blessed to have five fifth-years," said Sky. "Quinn turned the match. He is such an integral part of our team. Today's indicative of exactly what he means to our team.
"On the stats sheet there's many a night where it isn't that way yet his presence and everything he does for this team – he's such a multi-faceted player. We're all thrilled for him. In many ways, he's the leader of our culture. It was a tremendous job by him."
The opening set was contested throughout, but MRU was in the driver's seat after 20. MacEwan had a shot, though, after a Peters kill put them just 23-22 down, but the Cougars scored back-to-back kills from Mounter and Matt Saly to end it.
The energy from the Griffins in Set 2 was palpable as they grabbed a 16-10 lead at the technical timeout and never let up, closing it out on a gorgeous back set by Caleb Weiss to Krause coming on the back-row pipe play for a thunderous slam through the heart of the defence.
The small differences in the third set, though, showed what separates the 12-3 Cougars from the 3-12 Griffins: execution.
"They found ways to execute," said Poplawski. "We identified in the team room (afterward), there were four free balls in the third set that we got and whether it was due to good blocking … we didn't score on any of them. At this level, that has to be pretty much automatic. That was a big turning point throughout that set."
Especially since MRU won by just three points, ending it on a Scott Gieske kill.
The Cougars led nearly the entire fourth set and put the hammer down for a 6-2 run to close it out as Bromley won a joust ball.
"We focused on the whole idea of just being a gritty team," said Sky. "We're not the most talented team in the league, but we focus on, 'can we be the best team?' How gritty can we get? To see so many guys step up and just battle is huge."
For the Griffins, there was a simple lesson in their post-game meeting.
"The guys said (afterward) and I agree with it, that sometimes we get in these tight games and it's almost like they don't feel what got them there is enough," said Poplawski. "They have to do extra.
"We have to get to the point where we realize what got us there is good enough. We don't have to change at 18-all. We got to that point by doing some good things. We don't have to swing harder."
The teams will meet again on Saturday (6:30 p.m., Canada West TV).