Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – In just over 24 hours, MacEwan's David Atkinson Gym will be filled again with the sounds of volleyballs smashing off the floor.
The main course of the season is almost upon us, but as far as hors d oeuvres go, this weekend's Griffins/Pandas Invitational – with preseason action between six different U SPORTS teams – will certainly whet the appetite.
MacEwan will kick off play against Waterloo on Thursday (6:30 p.m.), while also facing Calgary on Friday (5 p.m.) and Mount Royal University on Saturday (3 p.m.). Other games at the David Atkinson Gym include MRU vs. Waterloo on Friday (5 p.m.) and Thompson Rivers University vs. Calgary on Saturday (3 p.m.).
"It's really early for everybody," acknowledged MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs, whose team doesn't begin Canada West regular season play until Oct. 19 vs. UBC-Okanagan. "At this level, most of the teams will return three-quarters of their team, so you need to start establishing systems and things like that.
"For us, it's nice to come back. We've got some people put into bigger roles this year. There's still some positional battles that are going to go on for the whole of preseason. This is our opportunity for us to give everyone a full match to get into it."
Alberta will also be hosting several matches at the Saville Centre, as well as a full slate of split-team scrimmages between all six teams in attendance on Friday (10:30 a.m.) and Saturday (9:30 a.m.).
"That's the big thing," explained Briggs. "That's why the teams come. We go to three tournaments in preseason and all of them use that formula now."
The benefits of quick split-squad scrimmages mean extra reps and playing time for everyone on the team.
"(It's key because) it isn't just six or seven girls getting the opportunity," said Briggs. "We've got one coach on each court running their seven girls and they're playing that whole time. So, we don't ever have a day we train less than four or five hours."
That's important for a Griffins team that replaced five program graduates from last season with five newcomers in 2018-19, including four of them right out of high school.
"In preseason, it's all about touches and training and getting used to each other," he said. "We do have opportunities to play matches where we practice subbing, but overall our teams just want contacts and getting reps and seeing other teams. It's just a better atmosphere than practicing against each other."