Griffins return nine players as they kick off season-long preparation for conference playoff tourney

Shannon Majeau led the Griffins with 12 points on a day they struggled to shoot the ball (Dallas Hancox photo).
Shannon Majeau led the Griffins with 12 points on a day they struggled to shoot the ball (Dallas Hancox photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – In a rarity for rosters around the Canada West conference in any sport this season, the MacEwan Griffins women's basketball team has nine returning players.

Representing 69 per cent of the lineup, it's a huge number amid the largest season of turnover the conference has ever seen following the lost season of 2020-21 due to the pandemic.

The MacEwan women's volleyball team, for example, has only 25 per cent of its roster back.

"I think it's a really unique situation in Canada West this year if you look at rosters across the conference," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "We got lucky in the point in our cycle we were at. The previous two years, we were quite young and developing and we just happened to hit the point now where we're a veteran team."

Led by fifth-year Drew Knox and five fourth-years – Mackenzie Farmer, Shannon Majeau, Mady Chamberlin, Darian Mahmi and Hannah Gibb – the Griffins have the experience to make some noise as the season gets underway this weekend.

Friday's opener at Mount Royal University (6 p.m.) will mark the first game action for the Griffins in 629 days. They'll also play the Cougars in Calgary on Saturday (4 p.m., both games on Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

The Griffins hold a 14-2 record against the Cougars since joining Canada West in 2014.

But it's hard to predict what will happen this season, even going into it with a veteran lineup. Rosters have turned over so much that coaches are left with many unknowns about how they'll stack up.

"Truthfully, it's so hard to say because there's been so much change across the league," said Adams. "Even if you look at last year and what teams were able to do – there were some teams in our conference last year who competed and we were at the other end of the spectrum and didn't train at all. Everybody's dealing with different situations and as we come back to it, it just presents a really unknown picture of what things are going to look like.

"We're excited about where we're at," she continued. "We have taken the positives from COVID – the time off and the opportunity to connect in different ways to help grow ourselves as basketball players and people. I think that's really going to help our team connection on the court and hopefully you'll see it in our play."

Normally, a coach would say the season expectation is to make the playoffs, but with regional play in Canada West in 2021-22, the format has every team in the league making the conference playoff tournament Feb. 25-27.

The entire regular season will be simply about seeding for that tournament.

Seeds 10-17 have to play single-elimination games on the opening day, while Seeds 4-8 await the winners in single-elimination matches on Day 2. The top-four teams await those winners in four single-elimination quarter-final games on Day 3 with spots in the March 4-6 Final Four up for grabs.

So, for Adams and the Griffins, the entire season is about preparing for clutch moments on the last weekend in February.

"Truthfully it is," said Adams. "The goal of making playoffs has already been achieved, so now it's preparing ourselves to perform when that moment comes.

"We have 16 league games to help prepare us for that – to learn and grow and get better and put ourselves in the best position possible come that time."

The Griffins' home-opener is set for Nov. 12 against Calgary (6 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).