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Birkholz delivers back-to-back aces as Griffins take a set off U SPORTS No. 1 Alberta before losing 3-1

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The moment will surely be a memorable one for Seth Birkholz.

The Griffins’ rookie went back to the service line with the third set tied 23-23 in front of a raucous crowd at the Saville Centre and delivered back-to-back aces.

It allowed the Griffins to take a set off the U SPORTS No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears before eventually losing 3-1 (25-15, 25-19, 23-25, 25-20 in Canada West action on Friday night.

“That was pretty cool to see a young guy step into a cool moment,” said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. “He’s an Edmonton kid, the atmosphere’s good. It’s 23-all in a clinching set for them and for him to go back-to-back and get two aces is definitely a nice moment. 

“I hope that’s something he can keep building on, too. It was nice to see a young guy step into that moment and deliver for us.”

The win was the Golden Bears’ 16th straight and pushed them to 16-1 on the season, while the Griffins, who were fresh off their first victory of the season last weekend, fall to 1-16.

While the loss wasn’t what they came for, to at least give the defending U SPORTS champions a game means something for the Griffins.

“I think everyone’s tired of moral victories and whatever, but they’re the number one team in the country for a reason,” said Poplawski. “They’re big, they’re physical, they put a lot of service pressure on us. 

“We were up 11-8 in the first set and then they just kind of took over the game from the baseline. Our passers were doing some good stuff. They’re a team that wants to serve you out of system and then they’re very good with the block defence with their size. They made it hard for us to side out and then earning points was a struggle.”

Alexei Walisser led the Griffins with 11 kills, while Birkholz had one kills, those two aforementioned aces and a match-high five blocks in just two sets of action.

Isaac Heslinga led Alberta with 16 kills and eight digs, while Braedon Friesen had 13 kills, Jordan Canham had 11 and Cam Kern produced 46 assists.

For the Griffins there are some positives to pull out of it, with some teaching moments thrown in, too.

“At times, we did push,” said Poplawski. “I think the good stuff was good. There were some defensive things we’d probably like to have back. They’re a team where it’s tough to stay patient, but that’s what it requires is to stay patient and trust our system so we’re not trying to do too much.

“We just have to find a way to do more. They’re going to keep you off balance because they have so many weapons. Just try and do a little bit better job on the things we did well and maybe tidy up some of the things that we didn’t.” 

The teams will meet again on Saturday (5 p.m., Saville Centre, Canada West TV).

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