Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – High-level preparation for the season is welcome when you're featuring five first-year players on your roster.
The MacEwan men's volleyball team gave its rookies somewhat of a trial by fire last month on a trip to Europe to play matches against four pro/semi-pro squads just five days after their first Griffins practice.
"It was great," said head coach Brad Poplawski. "We have some new guys to the program. You don't learn a lot necessarily from five days of training – that's all we had before we went. (The trip was) kind of throwing them into the fire and seeing how they respond. So that was cool."
Respond they did. The Griffins won three of four matches against Spanish and French teams – a great kick-off to their preparations for the 2018-19 Canada West season, which begins Oct. 19 vs. UBC-Okanagan.
MacEwan lost the trip's opener on Aug. 22, 3-2 to Barcelona club AE Aula before rattling off three wins – 3-0 over Barcelona's CN Sabadell on Aug. 24, and 3-1 over both Montpellier, France clubs Narbonne and Gignac on Aug. 27-28.
"In Narbonne, that's their legit second division team and they actually had their pro-A libero playing with them," said Poplawski. "A couple of backup pro-A middles played as well. They were, for sure, the best team we played. They were very strong. But we played a good match.
"We even played a couple of different lineups," he added. "We won the first two sets and then I wanted to get as many as we could getting that experience of playing a team that strong. So, we actually went with a completely different lineup in the third and fourth sets. We lost the third but came back to win the fourth, so it was a pretty good match."
Valuable experience indeed for a MacEwan team that will head into its next bout of preseason action this weekend at the University of Alberta's Sofaland Classic – a tourney featuring three other Canada West teams and eight others from the ACAC.
The Griffins will play Calgary on Thursday (6 p.m.), Saskatchewan on Friday (6 p.m.) and host Alberta on Saturday (8 p.m., all at Saville Centre, Comp Gym). In between, they will also face two ACAC teams – Concordia on Friday (11 a.m., Saville Gym 7) and NAIT on Saturday (1 p.m., Saville Gym 7).
"It's a great tournament, playing two college teams and then the three Canada West teams to obviously see where we stack up very early in the season," said Poplawski. "But it's also for everyone to play."
Particularly against Concordia and NAIT, Poplawski will be looking to get younger players onto the court to gain experience.
"We have a couple of young guys out with injury right now, which is unfortunate, because this a great opportunity to let them play in the mornings against the college teams, especially," he said. "We'll hopefully have one or two guys back from injury.
"We're down a few bodies, so we obviously want to try to stay healthy through the weekend, but it's an opportunity for everyone to play this weekend. When we travel to UBCO next weekend (Sept. 27-30) we can't bring the full roster, so this is a really good opportunity. Everyone's going to see the floor at some point and play and start a full match.
"You can see the stuff in training, but we want to see what they can do in a match when there's people watching and someone keeping score with everything they do."