Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Their last visit to the Saville Centre went so far sideways, the result of MacEwan's men's volleyball match against the University of Alberta Golden Bears didn't even matter.
Within a span of 20 minutes during a Sept. 22 exhibition, two Griffins players went to the hospital.
"One was a peanut allergy – went into anaphylactic shock," explained MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "The other one was a broken nose, which you never see. It wasn't from a ball, it was from an elbow.
"I've coached for a long time and that was the first time that has happened. We'd like to have a little more success health-wise than we did last time."
The Griffins (2-4) will visit the Golden Bears (5-1) for a pair of Canada West matches this weekend (Friday, 6 p.m. and Saturday, 6:30 p.m., both at the Saville Centre).
It's easy to call it a rivalry given the close proximity of the universities, but the reality is the Golden Bears – with eight national titles in program history – have dominated the matches since MacEwan joined Canada West in 2014.
"I'd like it to become an actual rivalry," said Poplawski. "Right now, it's a geographical rivalry. Obviously with their history, they're the Bears. Everyone in the country knows who they are. It's a really good test for us to see (where we are)."
The Griffins have made some improvements this season, winning their first two matches, but have now dropped four in a row, most recently getting swept by Saskatchewan at home last weekend.
They're going against a battle-tested Bears team that rattled off sweeps of solid UBC and Mount Royal squads before splitting with reigning Canada West champion Trinity Western last weekend.
"Watching that game, they're playing some pretty high-level volleyball," said Poplawski of last Saturday's 3-2 win at TWU. "It's one of those weekends where you have to do everything right because if not, it goes really fast because of the way they play.
"We have to have a good week of training and know that they're going to put stress on literally every area of our game," he added. "We have a lot of stuff we have to accomplish this week just to stay in it, even.
"It's a big measuring stick with the success of their program and who they are. It's one that will definitely have the players' attention. They understand what this week means."