Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The battle for a playoff spot may be an uphill one, but the fact the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball team is legitimately in the fight is a positive sign of progression for a growing program.
Entering the second half of the season with a 3-9 record, the Griffins will have their work cut out for them to catch one of the eight playoff positions. Currently the final spots are held by 5-7 Winnipeg and Calgary.
This weekend, however, is certainly an opportunity to make up some ground. Normally a trip to Vancouver to face UBC – which the Griffins will do on Friday (8:30 p.m. MT) and Saturday (7:30 MT, both on Canada West TV) – is a dire prospect. Last season, the Thunderbirds won the U SPORTS national championship.
But with plenty of roster turnover heading into the 2018-19 season, UBC is currently below MacEwan in the standings (2-10).
Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski cautions, however, that UBC's record is highly misleading.
"Probably the best 2-10 team I've ever seen," he said. "I don't think their record is indicative of who they are. When you look at their roster, they have a ton of junior national team experience. They're really athletic.
"They had a tough first semester in terms of who they played. We know how that is when you have young guys getting their first opportunity. Watching them play, they're very good."
So, the Griffins will need to be sharp out of the gates in their first Canada West regular season action since Dec. 1. If so, they have a chance to climb the table.
"We're at least in the conversation," said Poplawski. "We're not talking about building for next year. There's still a lot to play for this year. A lot has to go right. We're still at least in the mix if we can find a way to win some games.
"I think as a competitor, you want to have a chance and the guys have that. Their work in training coming off the break has shown that. Their attention to detail is pretty good and their all extremely motivated still."
Poplawski was impressed when his players came back after the break for practice on Dec. 27 and really hadn't lost much in the fitness department, if anything. They kicked off second half preparations by inviting the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves in for training sessions.
They also ran some camps for NAVC club teams.
"It was a good to get back," he said. "I was actually really happy with their fitness levels coming off the break. I think we're pretty close to being back to where we were after the break. I thought it was productive.
"The guys need a break, obviously, and exams have to be number one. The guys came back refreshed."
MacEwan is 3-3 this season at home but has yet to win on the road (0-6). So, seeing some success in the War Memorial Gym this weekend would be a big step.
"I think our road record, for whatever reason hasn't been what it needs to be this year," said Poplawski. "We've been good at home and not quite so strong on the road. I don't know if it's who we've played or if it's something we can change up. Our preparation isn't any different. Obviously (the road results are) something we need to change this semester."
Following this weekend on the road, the Griffins return home Jan. 18-19 to host Mount Royal University.