Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Spending two weeks in Poland over the semester break shadowing some of the best players and coaches in the world, MacEwan Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski admitted he brought back "notebooks" of information.
What drills they did. How they trained. The coaching philosophies of some of the greatest minds in the game.
"Basically, I was a fly on the wall at everything – every lift, every workout, every training session, video session, all the coaches' meetings," said Poplawski of the opportunity to learn from top Polish professional clubs MKS Bedzin and Jastrzebski Wegiel. "I got to basically see everything that goes into it."
Former Canadian coach Stelio DeRocco, whose son Mike is an assistant coach on the Griffins, is at the helm of MKS Bedzin – which is where Poplawski spent the majority of his time on the December trip. But he also had a chance to shadow Jastrzebski Wegiel head coach Mark Lebedew, which is the team Stelio's son Jason plays on.
"I think there's a lot of stuff I took and a ton of learning," he said. "There's little things the guys may have noticed in training that are a touch different, but for coach development, it was great for me, just to see that level.
"The nice thing is a lot of the things we're doing is exactly the way they do it there. I think it kind of re-affirms that we're doing the right stuff," he added.
"It was still volleyball at the end of the day, but just seeing it played and executed at such a high level was great. I actually got to spend a lot of time with the athletes, too, just to gain some insight into how they prepare – their mindset."
If Poplawski can bring some of that back to the Griffins, it has the potential to give them a boost heading into a grueling stretch of six-straight weeks of play in the second half of the Canada West season.
The 1-11 squad will kick off an uphill battle for a playoff spot at Saskatchewan (5-9) Friday and Saturday (8 p.m. both nights, Canada West TV). The Huskies are currently tied for the final post-season position, eight points ahead of the Griffins, but MacEwan has two games in hand.
"They're coming off two wins last weekend, so they're playing well off the break," said Poplawski. "I think in some ways we're kind of similar in that we have some young outsides, they're pretty physical in the middle, they have very good setting.
"Obviously, we've been training well, but we haven't competed in a while, so it will be 'how quickly can we adapt to that?' Hopefully we can reach a level that's pretty good right off the start."
When they take to the court on Friday, it will have been six weeks minus a day since their last Canada West action. But they haven't been idle. The Griffins returned to practice on Dec. 18, took a four-day break for Christmas and picked right back up where they left off afterward.
"I thought the guys took care of the stuff over the break as far as their workouts and those things, which hopefully sets us up for the second semester," said Poplawski. "Obviously having the bye the first week back means we will go six weeks in a row, so it will be a long grind, for sure. I think they did the things they needed to do to start the semester properly."