Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – lt's hard to start the engine when you can't find the keys.
The passing game broke down in an epic manner for the MacEwan's men's volleyball team and their entire game fell apart as a result in a 3-0 straight-sets loss (25-17, 25-10, 25-22) to the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars on Saturday night.
"It looked like we've never passed the ball before," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski, whose team committed 10 receiving errors and couldn't sustain any sort of an attack. "It might be one of the worst passing performances I've ever seen at any level.
"If you can't skate, you can't play hockey. If you can't pass, you can't play volleyball. There's nothing that can be done."
The most glaring set was No. 2 when the Griffins mustered just 10 points – a rare beatdown that included a nine-point serving run from Mitchell Newman.
"It's twofold," explained Cougars head coach Shawn Sky. "I think we had a really good serving night. We did a really good job of hitting our spots.
"They've got some really young talented players and there's a learning curve there. They've got a really strong foundation of players.
"Honestly, passing to a degree is like shooting a basketball. You can be a tremendous athlete, but you need your reps and sometimes there's a painful learning curve in there. If anything, I think we were able to take advantage of that a bit."
Riley Friesen led the Cougars with 14 kills on a .444 hitting efficiency, adding six digs and three blocks. Newman had five service aces to go with six kills and five digs, while Tanner Greves racked up 30 assists.
"I thought the best thing we did tonight was our ability to just play one point," said Sky. "(No. 2 was a) lopsided set and we've all had one. We've been on the other side of it. Staying mentally engaged is crucial. I think that was the most impressive thing for us to do that."
The serve-receive battle went dramatically in favour of the Cougars a night after it was pretty even.
"Credit to Mount Royal," said Griffins assistant coach Eirik Thomassen. "They talked about that yesterday, they weren't too pleased with the serve-pass battle they had.
"That was one of the focuses going into tonight was improving that side of the game. We did as well, but they got to the next level," he added. "They missed far less serves and put way more pressure on us and we couldn't respond to that as well tonight."
MacEwan got 12 kills from middle Max Vriend on a .526 hitting percentage, while he added four blocks. But they really couldn't get anyone else going due to passing.
"It's nothing we haven't seen," said Poplawski. "It's float serves. It's something we train against every single day. It's something we plan for.
"We tried moving lines, we tried passing four, we tried shifting more guys – we tried a bunch of different things, but physically it comes down to float serve, 'OK, I've got to move my feet, boom, pass the ball.' And we got very stationary.
"The thing that bothers me is it looks like we don't train that and we do so much serve-pass. We talk every week about winning the serve-pass battle with every team we play. That's how we train. That's our focus. I'm at a loss."
With the result, the Griffins fall to 1-15 on the Canada West season, while the Cougars improve to 5-13. MacEwan will be at home again next weekend, hosting Regina on Jan. 26-27, while MRU heads into a bye week. The Cougars return to action on Feb. 2 at Manitoba.