Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – With the dawn of a new semester upon them, the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team is two games above .500, was named on Tuesday as a national top-10 honourable mention and is in position to legitimately chase the first Canada West playoff berth in program history.
Halfway through the campaign, the Griffins sit 7-5 – fifth out of 13 squads chasing berths in the top eight.
"We know what we've done in our first semester to put ourselves in this place and now we have to follow through this semester and just build on that consistency," said Griffins head coach Ken Briggs.
Their slate of 12 remaining regular season matches kicks off with a road trip to Vancouver this weekend to face the 8-6 UBC Thunderbirds (Friday, 7 p.m. MT and Saturday, 6 p.m. MT, both games on Canada West TV).
"Huge challenge, for sure," said Briggs, noting the T-Birds boast the only national team player competing in the Canada West ranks – Kiera Van Ryk, who leads the conference in kills.
"The only good thing is we've always played well against UBC and felt good against them. We've had really good games in the War Memorial (gym), but it's a tough task to come back (and play them). They already played two games (last weekend)."
The Griffins, meanwhile, haven't played a match that counts in the standings since beating Winnipeg back on Dec. 1.
They did, however, spend part of the semester break in an exhibition tournament at the University of Alberta – key action to prepare them for a tough second semester. MacEwan lost 3-2 to visiting Japanese university team NIFS Kanoya on Dec. 28 at the Saville Centre before falling 3-0 to Regina on Dec. 29 and beating Mount Royal University 3-1 on Dec. 30.
"It was really huge," said Briggs, adding that the teams all scrimmaged against each in training tilts each morning. "We got three matches and we got stronger and stronger. Having those morning sessions where you're playing everybody was worth a week of practices. That was really good."
The Griffins were able to push NIFS Kanoya to a fifth set even though they were hampered by the rust of playing on their first day back after a lengthy break.
"Pretty tough the first day back when we hadn't touched a ball in a month, but somehow, we took it to five and actually it was ours to lose," said Briggs. "We could beat them at the net, it was just the rest of the game. At that point, we weren't quite consistent enough passing-wise to be able to run our offence.
"It was fun – really cool to have both anthems and a gift exchange. It was a different style of volleyball, so it was fun."
The tournament also gave more reps to young outside hitters such as first-year Tess Pearman, who will be counted on down the stretch after a tough injury prognosis for first-half star Janna Ogle will hold her out the rest of the season.
"We're not going to be the same team we were the first semester because we've lost Janna," lamented Briggs.
"That changes things, but Lauren (Holmes) is back 100 per cent healthy and it gives a couple of those other people like Tess a chance to step up.
"It just means the next-man-up motto that all teams use, but we're putting less experienced people in those positions now."