Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – MacEwan's University's Atkinson gym (AG) will be filled to capacity this week with some of the best female volleyball players in the country.
All three medallists from last March's U Sports women's volleyball championship – UBC, Alberta and Trinity Western (TWU) – will be in town starting Thursday for the annual Griffins/Pandas Invitational, hosted between MacEwan and the U of A's Saville Centre.
"Why the teams like this format is it isn't just a tournament," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "It's three days of training together where your full roster is getting to train for what ends up being about six hours. That's what attracts the teams to come here at this time of year.
"To be able to finish the day off with a formal match where you can put your teams in situations you're going to have in another month or so is the icing on the cake."
Canada West opponents Calgary, Mount Royal University (MRU) and Saskatchewan will also be involved, while defending Ontario champion McMaster rounds out the eight-team field.
MacEwan will host MRU on Thursday (6:30 p.m., AG), defending national champion UBC on Friday (5 p.m., AG) and Calgary on Saturday (3 p.m., AG). All three were Canada West playoff teams a season ago, meaning the tests will be great to sharpen the Griffins' preparation for the regular season, which begins on the road at Thompson Rivers Oct. 20-21.
MacEwan (8-16) missed the post-season in 2016-17, but they had no turnover, solid recruiting and are going in expecting to be part of a playoff picture that will expand to eight teams this season.
"Really, really positive," said Briggs of how their two-week training camp has gone so far. "This is our first time having a returning team – not losing any athletes and then having some injured athletes who have worked so hard to get back.
"Having a full roster with competition is really exciting. We now have athletes who've played in Canada West for three years. That experience is starting to show."
Other matches scheduled to take place at MacEwan are Calgary vs. Saskatchewan (Friday, 5 p.m.), TWU vs. MRU (Friday, 7 p.m.), Saskatchewan vs. MRU (Saturday, 3 p.m.) and UBC vs. McMaster (Saturday, 5 p.m.).
The University of Alberta's Saville Centre will host matches between TWU and McMaster (Thursday, 3:30 p.m.), UBC and Calgary (Thursday, 5 p.m.), Alberta and Saskatchewan (Thursday, 7 p.m.), Alberta and McMaster (Friday, 7 p.m.) and Alberta vs. TWU (Saturday, 5 p.m.).
Before the matches the teams will train together and play wash games, which is also a big reason why the top squads are making the trek to Edmonton.
"That's what the teams want," said Briggs. "In a match, you might go as deep as 8-10 players, but everybody has 16-20 rostered athletes. Just getting them experience – not just coming in for a set but playing for six hours against that same competition – is really valuable, especially at this time of year."