Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Rankings are never the favourite topic of MacEwan women's volleyball head coach Ken Briggs, who is much more focused on the nuances and individual matchups his players need to master to have success each week than what a piece of paper says.
But with his team receiving an honourable mention in this week's U SPORTS top-10 rankings, it's at least a shot of validation that the Griffins – who have a 4-2 record (tied for third in Canada West) – are a good team.
"It just means we've had some success in the first three weeks. But it's still the fact we're finding ways to win. That's the biggest thing to take out of that," said Briggs, whose team's clutch play has them defying another ranking so far this season – the Canada West preseason coaches' poll that tabbed them to finish 12th out of 13 teams.
The team conference coaches voted to finish first and who are currently ranked fourth in the country – the Alberta Pandas – are the Griffins' opponent this weekend as they head across town to the Saville Centre for matches on Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.).
As much as Briggs doesn't put a lot of stock into the perceived pecking order, he knows what they're up against in a Pandas team that's also 4-2 so far this season (with both of their losses coming at No. 3 Trinity Western last weekend).
"This is an early measuring stick for one of the best teams in the conference, I believe," he said. "They're a very unique offensive team. This was a team that was in the national final last year, and they have one different player – a returning fifth-year setter who was an all-star.
"They're definitely a measuring stick and it's also difficult to play at Saville. That's a tough gym to play in. To go in there and compete is a big step."
This could be MacEwan's best shot at the Pandas since entering Canada West in 2014, though. Not only are the Griffins a confident bunch with home sweeps of UBC-Okanagan and Saskatchewan under their belts so far this season, the last time they played a regular season match at the Saville Centre (October 2017), they should have won, undone by their own errors in a five-set defeat.
If there are takeaways out of that and how the Griffins have had success this season it's how important the mental battle is in warding off mistakes and maintaining momentum.
"We have some confidence in the things we're doing, and we know the things we've done well on the first three weekends we need to continue to do that," said Briggs.
"Error control is our biggest enemy because they're very much a team that's going to push you and try to win through attrition. They're not going to make any dangerous moves, they're not going to take any big chances because they're going to make you make the mistake."