Volleyball teams continue daunting schedule at Trinity Western

November 18, 2016

Kai Hesthammer digs out a ball against the University of Alberta on Nov. 10 (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, Sports Information Officer

In completing one of the toughest opening months of scheduling that any U Sports team (in any sport) has ever faced, the MacEwan University Griffins men’s volleyball team will head to Trinity Western this weekend.

It would be easy to discount them after opening the Canada West campaign with an 0-6 record.

But they’ve already faced three nationally-ranked teams – honourable mention Winnipeg, No. 9 Saskatchewan and No. 1 Alberta – and will now get the defending national champions.

Trinity Western (4-0) has few holes and is currently ranked second in the country.

“Obviously, they have a lot of veteran experience,” said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. “They’re the national champs from last year. From that team, they pretty much only lost their libero. They returned their whole starting lineup and actually had a pretty awesome recruiting class.

“I’d say they’re similar in ways to the U of A and Saskatchewan in that they’re a big, physical team. But they also do things a little different. They have a lot of different looks.

“They’re definitely a team you have to be aware of,” he added. “There’s certain things you have to look for. Regardless of how they line up, they’re just big and really, really skilled. There’s a lot of junior national team experience with their group and obviously national championship experience.”

If anything, the Griffins are getting a crash course in what it takes to be the best. At times so far, they’ve been able to play shot-for-shot with the elite teams they’ve faced.

“I think playing against those teams makes us better, there’s no question,” said Poplawski, whose squad took Saskatchewan to five sets in one match and took a set off Alberta for the first time in program history last weekend. “You have to be so prepared and you have to play at such a high level.

“For us, we’re learning how to play at that level for longer periods of time. Obviously it hasn’t been enough yet, but we’re starting to play for more than just a few points at a time. When it’s not going well, we can see how these strong teams keep coming at you.

“It’s definitely been a growth year and a learning year for all of us,” he added. “It’s important that we continue that and keep getting better at this level.”

For the MacEwan women’s volleyball team, their road isn’t any easier this weekend. Trinity’s female team has been to the national final two straight seasons and are currently ranked fifth in the country.

“The game prep for this last weekend and this weekend are probably the most difficult of the year because these are the most experienced, most physical teams we’ll play,” said head coach Ken Briggs, whose squad was swept in both matches against Alberta last weekend to fall to 2-4 on the season.

“I just think understanding how we game planned last week and how it really does make a difference for this group (is key). It gives them a plan going into this weekend and now they know what we’re preparing for.

“The biggest thing for us is our preparation. We can’t take everything away because they’re so experienced and so deep. But every team has tendencies. That’s what we’re keying on.”

The Griffins had some success against Alberta, but were unable to string together enough high-level plays needed to win.

“We knew last weekend, we were in every game,” said Briggs. “Those little four- or five-point runs that usually are the difference, that’s what we’ve focused on.”

MacEwan’s volleyball teams will visit Trinity Western on Friday and Saturday (6 p.m. MT, women; 8 p.m. MT men).

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