Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Considering they've won three of the last four national and conference championships, claiming the U SPORTS crown in 2018-19, it's no stretch to say Trinity Western is the team to beat in the Canada West men's volleyball ranks this season.
By many accounts, they're even stronger in 2019-20.
"They've arguably got even better with Jesse Elser coming back," said Brad Poplawski, whose MacEwan Griffins will visit the Spartans this weekend. "They're just extremely good, extremely deep."
Including Elser, the Spartans have nine players who either played for Canada's senior national team, B team or junior national squad.
"They're basically going to test every part of our game," said Poplawski. "They're going to serve really tough, so we need to make sure we're doing a great job with our first contact, getting the ball to our setters and giving ourselves a chance to try to compete."
The Griffins have proven already in this young season that when they pass effectively, they can win. They knocked off Mount Royal University in their season opener earlier this month by doing just that. Even though their passing fell apart in the rematch and they settled for a split with the Cougars, it's an encouraging sign that their top level can get the job done.
They'll visit TWU in Langley, B.C., on Friday (9 p.m. MT) and Saturday (8 p.m. MT, both on Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
MacEwan has had plenty of time to prepare for the Spartans after sitting idle since their opening weekend at MRU wrapped up on Oct. 19. They had a bye week last weekend because Regina, visiting the Griffins women's volleyball squad, doesn't have a men's team.
"It's not ideal, but I thought the guys made the most out of the bye week last week and we got a lot out of it in training," said the head coach. "We've worked on a lot of stuff. Obviously, this is a huge test, but hopefully we can see some of the things we've been working on in training come out in the match."
A big key to that will be staying mentally focused on the process.
"We know we're going to be tested in every aspect of the game," said Poplawski. "It's tough when you play a team that strong to stay patient because they come at you in bunches. They can go on huge runs and that tests your patience and you try to do too much.
"You can't get it back in one swing. Regardless of score, can we try to get into our system and rhythm? When you play a team this good, I really feel every point against them is going to make us better and we're going to learn about ourselves.
"Can we find a way to get better this weekend somehow – be a better team on Saturday night than we were heading in there on Friday?"