Unique training opportunity allows Griffins to play sitting volleyball with Team Canada

Members of the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team (black shirts) team up with players from Team Canada's women's sitting volleyball team to try the Paralympic sport during practice on Friday.
Members of the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team (black shirts) team up with players from Team Canada's women's sitting volleyball team to try the Paralympic sport during practice on Friday.

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – When it came time to wrap up last Friday's practice, Griffins women's volleyball coach Ken Briggs could hardly get his squad to leave the court.

That's because they were wrapping up a unique training opportunity with the Canadian women's sitting volleyball team that had them trying the Paralympic sport for themselves.

Although, it's a sport where you're not allowed to stand or even rise up onto your knees, the fundamentals of volleyball are the same. So, naturally the Griffins loved the experience.

"When you're learning something new, it's always hard to communicate how to best go about it," said Griffins outside hitter Kate Rozendaal. "It's always interesting to progress as a team in a somewhat different area using the same skills we have in the standing game."

Rozendaal had prior experience with the sitting game after training a bit with them during the summer.

"I always like playing with them," she said. "I trained with them this summer when they need some extra bodies – some bigger blockers. I'm friends with those girls and it's fun to go out and play their sport with the mix of ours."

Nicole Ban wears two hats – assistant coach of Griffins women's volleyball team and head coach of Team Canada's sitting squad. She let Briggs know they were holding a monthly training camp at Edmonton's Saville Centre and it worked out to bring them into Griffins practice at MacEwan's Atkinson Gym.

That's how the last half of Friday's practice turned into a sitting volleyball tournament where teams comprised of three Team Canada players and three Griffins players played a round-robin before a championship match. No one wanted it to end.

"I think we could have went much longer," agreed Ban. "I think for my sitting athletes, it was a good experience for them to be able to teach high-level athletes the rule (differences). That was kind of fun for my athletes to explain to the Griffins.

"For the Griffins, it was to share the fact that they do know volleyball and they were quite a bit bigger than my athletes, so they were seeing a bigger block at the net. So, I think it was a good experience for both teams to share knowledge of either aspect of the game."

For Ban's national sitting team, they're busy preparing for a World Championship qualifier in Montreal on Oct. 24-30 where they'll battle against the United States and Brazil. While it's possible they've already qualified for the July 2018 Worlds in The Netherlands (based on world ranking), at the very least the event is a good tune-up for them.

"One year ago, we were just getting back from the Paralympics – kind of crazy to think about," said Ban. "We actually haven't competed a lot against other nations, but we did go down to the States and scrimmage with them. They're the best team in the world – they won the Paralympics – so it's great to play against them. Now our competition is this world championship qualifier."

For the Griffins, they have a busy weekend of preseason action ahead of them at the Unruh Realty Invitational in Winnipeg. They'll go against Winnipeg and Brock University on Friday before closing out round-robin play against Regina on Saturday (Noon MT). From there, they'll play in semifinals with the eye on making it to the championship gold medal game Sunday at Noon MT. Other teams in the tournament include Manitoba, Toronto, Brandon and Acadia.

It will be the final preseason action for the Griffins, who open regular-season play with a visit to Thompson Rivers on Oct. 20-21.