Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – As much as things change, the more they stay the same.
That old adage rings true for the team the MacEwan Griffins will face in Canada West women's volleyball action this weekend – Kamloops, B.C.-based Thompson Rivers University.
Two seasons ago, the WolfPack boasted 2016 national player of the year Iuliia Pahkomenko – a dominant Ukrainian outside hitter who drew the entire attention of the opposing team's game plan each week.
In 2018-19, they have another budding Ukrainian talent in 6-foot-3 outside hitter Olga Savenchuk, who's currently tied for fourth in Canada West in kills per set even though she's only in her first year.
It's fair to say MacEwan's scout has been focused a lot on her as they hit the road for matches on Friday (6 p.m. MT) and Saturday (7 p.m. MT, both games Canada West TV).
"She had 42 kills in six sets last weekend," noted MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs of TRU's back-to-back 3-0 wins over Winnipeg. "She's played in Europe and has now come over here and is getting a degree. She's a calming influence. Just watching video of her over the last three weeks, she's becoming more (a part of their offence).
"Every weekend, there's going to be that player," he continued. "U of A (their last opponent on Nov. 10) – it was Kory White. There's some similarities. Some of the ways we played against her, we now have to play against (Savenchuk).
"Every weekend, there's a new challenge and this is our newest one. It's not very often that one player can win a match, but she's certainly somebody we have to try to limit."
The other big hurdle for MacEwan (4-4) against TRU (3-5) is adjusting to the WolfPack's unique home base where games are played in a massive fieldhouse-type facility.
"They're one of the toughest places to play because it's in (a space) as big as the Kinsmen Fieldhouse," said Briggs. "They're just dropping curtains. Depth perception in volleyball is very tricky. You feel like you're out in the wide-open prairies. There's endless (space) behind you in both directions. It takes some getting used to."
The Griffins are coming in off a bye week where they were able to put two tough losses to cross-town rival Alberta on Nov. 9-10 behind them.
"I think that's exactly what happened," said Briggs. "We're refreshed. Mondays are usually a low-key practice coming off the weekend, but there was a lot of energy this week.
"We've already done our video and preparation for the weekend and now we're starting to refine the things we've done for the last three weeks against other competition."
And they've had some success, particularly in going 4-0 at home so far with sweeps of both UBC-Okanagan and Saskatchewan. But following the Alberta defeats, the Griffins lost their honourable mention spot on the U SPORTS national rankings and are looking to get back in top form.
Still searching for their first road win of the campaign, it's a big weekend for MacEwan in other ways, too.
"They're a team that we have to contend with (for a playoff position) and that's the biggest challenge," said Briggs.