Griffins prepare for supreme test against U SPORTS No. 1 Brandon in season finale

Mark Alexander prepares to knock down a set from Caleb Weiss in a match earlier this season. The Griffins will close out the 2018-19 campaign this weekend at Brandon (Chris Piggott photo).
Mark Alexander prepares to knock down a set from Caleb Weiss in a match earlier this season. The Griffins will close out the 2018-19 campaign this weekend at Brandon (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Habits, preparation and culture are all parts of building a successful Canada West program.

For the MacEwan Griffins men's volleyball program, that means never treating any other match differently than another.

It means that even though this weekend's series at Brandon (Friday, 6:45 p.m. MT and Saturday, 5:45 p.m. MT, both on Canada West TV) will be the 3-17 team's final action of the 2018-19 season, it's just as important as if they were 17-3, trying to lock up first place.

"That's been a big thing for me as a coach – I don't let our record or the situation dictate how we're going to prepare and I hope that's reflected in my athletes," said head coach Brad Poplawski, noting he gleaned that philosophy from his mentor coach Terry Danyluk at the University of Alberta – preparing as equally for a preseason contest as a national final. "They shouldn't be looking at this weekend with any different aspirations.

"All we've stressed all year is every weekend matters the exact same," he added. "The fact that it's the last adds finale to it, but it should in no way change how we prepare or the guys' attitudes towards it. If it does, I'll be disappointed. To me, it's just another week. It doesn't mean anything different.

"We prepare the same whether we're 20-0 or 0-20. We don't do anything different, less or more depending on the situation."

They'll be preparing for a supreme test. Ranked first in the country, the Bobcats are in the pole position to claim top spot in the Canada West conference with an 18-2 record. Trinity Western, who blanked MacEwan in a series sweep last weekend, didn't even win a set off the Bobcats when they met in January.

Brandon has lost only 12 sets all season and are on a 14-match winning streak. Two November losses at Mount Royal University are their only blemishes on the scorecard so far.

"I've watched them play a lot this year – obviously this week especially – but they're a team I tune in to watch to see how they play," said Poplawski. "They do the same thing that all the top teams do. They're big, they're physical, they have an international stud in Elliott Viles. They have good ball control. They're huge – they have three big middles they can roll, a good setter from Edmonton and their outsides are dominant. They're just a really good team. Grant (Wilson)'s done a nice job putting together that squad."

How much the Griffins have learned going against other Canada West titans in recent weeks – MRU and TWU, most notably – will go a long way in determining what kind of challenge they can offer to the Bobcats this weekend.

"We haven't been playing great, so I don't know if we're learning as much as we need to," said Poplawski of his team's nine-game losing streak, spanning all of the second semester. "We're still making some of the same errors and guys don't want to make changes or aren't able to.

"We talk about wanting to learn, but you've got to prove it. I'd like to see them make changes that we've talked about, but I haven't really noticed that yet, so I'm hoping some of the things they've identified and that we've worked on can show this weekend."

At the end of the day, they must forget about the standings and be ready to compete. It's two teams on a volleyball court. Who wants it more?

"We always want to play well," said Poplawski. "We're playing the No. 1 team in the country. This is an awesome opportunity. I hope the guys are excited about the chance to compete. If you're a competitor, it doesn't matter what your record is."