EDMONTON – After dropping the first set, the No. 1-ranked Spartans responded with three straight wins to rally for a 3-1 (24-26, 25-16, 25-18, 26-24) win over MacEwan Friday at the David Atkinson Gym.
After getting back in the match with second and third-set wins, the Spartans fell behind 6-1 in the fourth set and trailed 14-8 midway through set. However, they found a way back, going on a 7-1 run to tie the game before eventually taking a lead at 23-22.
Then, after MacEwan staved off two match points, a kill from Pearson Eshenko (Banff, Alta.) and a Griffins attacking error sealed the win over the Spartans (10-1).
Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) had a match-high 17 kills, while Jesse Elser (Calgary) had 14 kills. Setter Adam Schriemer (Winnipeg) had 39 assists while libero Carter Bergen (Winnipeg) led the way defensively, with 14 digs. Eshenko had eight blocks.
Ryan Zachary led the Griffins (1-10) with 10 kills, two aces and four blocks, while Max Vriend chipped in eight kills and five blocks. Last season's kills leader Kai Hesthammer was switched to libero for this one and led the Griffins with seven digs.
Fresh off a solid showing against No. 2 UBC last weekend, the Griffins came into the match with some jam, shocking TWU by taking the first set, sealed with Shane Kerrison's big block. The Spartans had 12 attacking errors in the set and never found any sort of rhythm.
The second and third sets were much different stories, as TWU hit .333 and .389 respectively, while holding MacEwan to negative attacking in both sets.
After TWU cruised to back-to-back wins to go up 2-1, the Griffins struck back, stealing early momentum in the fourth set and looked primed to force a fifth set with a 14-8 edge. However, the Spartans rallied and with Loeppky and Elser leading the charge, pulled out the win.
Head Coach Ben Josephson
"We got blocked a lot in that first set. Part of that was we missed a couple of things and they had a really nice setup on a lot of our spikes. They've done a good job all semester of changing their lineups, playing different players, so we didn't really feel comfortable about anything that was going to come up tonight. I think they had the jump on us. They had a good plan and their players executed really well in that first set.
"I think it took us a while to figure out how to recover from that blow they landed early. We did that in the second and third and then I think they adjusted back and did some really good things to us in the fourth. I don't know how we got through that one.
"I think the performance of note was Elser, who started really poorly in the first set and was struggling in a lot of phases, but then ended up having a really productive match in a number of areas. He passed well and defended well and scored well. It was cool to see a young player figure out how to be better.
"We also needed Eric to be great. He had to use all of his tools and off-speed shots because they had a really good setup on all of his hard stuff. I thought he did a really good job of adapting to the night. In golf, they talk about 'play the day.' You don't try to fix your shot on the course. You fix it on the range. Well, today, Eric didn't have his hard stuff – he had to use his off-speed – because that's what our opponent gave him. I was proud of him for adjusting and he got some really, really key kills down the stretch."
TWU and MacEwan play the rematch Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (PT).