Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – There are various ways to find success on the volleyball court.
Knowing who you are and who you aren't is the first step.
For example, take this weekend's opponent for the MacEwan Griffins – the Thompson Rivers WolfPack. The nationally-ranked squad boasts one of the biggest teams in U SPORTS men's volleyball ranks, led by star 6-foot-10 outside hitter Tim Dobbert, who is second in Canada West in kills/set.
Can the Griffins overpower them? Not a chance.
Do they have a chance of winning if they stick to their own style of precision passing? Absolutely.
"We have to play our style of game," stressed MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski. "We can't try to out-physical them because we'll lose that battle. We're not as big.
"We have to play our style – running speed offence, passing well and being very disciplined with our block assignments."
That will be easier said than done when the Griffins (2-6), underdogs to the WolfPack (5-1) – the No. 8-ranked team in Canada, visit Kamloops, B.C. for matches on Friday (7:45 p.m. MT) and Saturday (8:45 p.m. MT, both on Canada West TV).
Although they must trust their own style against TRU, there's no doubt that limiting what Dobbert does would help their cause. The big German import – a reigning Canada West second team all-star – is averaging 4.46 kills/set this season.
"He's a 6-10 opposite attacker for them that gets a lot of volume," said Poplawski.
"Their whole lineup, minus one guy, is huge. So, they block quite well and they're very offensive. They're going to put a lot of pressure on us with their serve. They have a couple of great spin servers and then they're going to put up a big block."
The key for MacEwan is digging out those serves to help set up varied, fast attacks that can put TRU's block out of position.
"I think we've worked pretty hard since August trying to identify how we want to play the game," said Poplawski. "I think we have to stick with that. If they get a big kill or a big bounce, that's fine. It's just one point. We can't try to hit the next ball harder just to match what they did because they're probably going to block it.
"It's important that we just really try to play our style of volleyball against them."
That almost worked against the University of Alberta Golden Bears earlier this month. Prior to having a bye week, the Griffins lost by the slimmest of margins in Nov. 9-10 games at their cross-town rival's gym. The second match against the U SPORTS No. 5 went to a fifth set – proof the Griffins can go toe-to-toe with any team out there.
If anything, that gave them a lift as they aim to catch their first playoff berth since joining Canada West in 2014.
"I hope so. I think so," said Poplawski. "In our planning for this season, obviously after the Bears we had a bye week. I thought we got what we needed out of that bye week as far as physical preparation.
"We're carrying (that momentum) into this week so far and the guys are focused," he added. "They know they can be successful and I think there's some trust with that, too. I'm hoping they can carry that into the next two weeks, the last of the first semester."