Graduating Seniors Q&A: Bereziuk, McGee bridged two eras of MacEwan playoff teams

Mariah Bereziuk, left, and Sarah McGee are heading into the final regular season weekend of their Griffins careers (Jefferson Hagen photo).
Mariah Bereziuk, left, and Sarah McGee are heading into the final regular season weekend of their Griffins careers (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Bridging two important eras of the Griffins women's volleyball program, graduating seniors Mariah Bereziuk and Sarah McGee will bookend their careers with playoff appearances this month.

Both were rookies on MacEwan's last team that made the Canada West playoffs in 2019-20 and both will be starters and seniors on the Griffins squad that will head to the post-season next weekend.

"Like I mentioned to the group yesterday, most of us have never been to a playoff," said MacEwan head coach Chris Wandler. "Sarah and Mariah played a role in that back four years ago. Now, they're really trying to use the experience from the older girls four or five years ago to now. 

"That's quite a remarkable accomplishment and I'm excited to see what happens (over the next few weeks)."

But first, they will be celebrated on Senior Day as they head into the final regular season weekend of their careers when MacEwan hosts UBC Okanagan on Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (4:30 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV). They will be feted during a special Senior Day ceremony prior to Saturday's game.


Sarah McGee and Mariah Bereziuk were rookies on the last Griffins women's volleyball team to make the Canada West playoffs in 2019-20 (Jefferson Hagen photo).

"They will leave a big gap (when they leave) as far as personality and their willingness to incorporate everybody into everything and the caring that goes on in the locker-room," said Wandler. "That's going to be hard to replace, but I think through their leadership, if the players have been watching all the little things they've been doing daily, we're hoping that that is just transcending, that it will keep on giving. 

"I'm sure Sarah and Mariah have learned that over their years here – taken little bits and pieces from people who have left the program. Hopefully that's going to be some of the building blocks that will leave the program (in a better place)."

Enjoy a Q&A with Mariah and Sarah below …


Chris Wandler's coach's quote: 

"I was talking to her over the course of the year, and I don't think she thought she could be this type of an impact player when she first got to the program, but through her work ethic she learned on the farm, she got this point. Watching from the sidelines, it's really been quite a spectacular performance this year."

 Mariah Bereziuk heads into the final weekend of the regular season fourth in Canada West in kills and second in kills/set (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Q&A with Mariah Bereziuk:

Graduating with …

Bachelor of Commerce in Human Resources

Do you have a career goal in mind?

I want to start as a generalist and then maybe move into the more people analytics side of things.

Do you have any plans to keep playing volleyball after MacEwan?

At this level, I don't have any more plans, but maybe women's league and coaching down the road.

When you look back at your time with the Griffins, what are some of your favourite memories?

Honestly, any travel trip with the team is super fun. But the most recent trip to Kamloops when we got stranded was probably my favourite. There was a big group of us in one of the girls rooms and we just sat there and watched Lord of the Rings. It was a lot of fun.

How many extra nights were you stranded there?

One extra night. We were supposed to fly out Sunday and we ended up taking a bus trip back Monday morning.

You're book-ending your career with playoff spots – 2019-20 and now this season. How do you look back on that (playoff run) that you can use as experience this time around?

I went into playoffs as a rookie with zero experience and had to play because Lauren Holmes got hurt. I think coming into these playoffs, the nerves aren't going to be there … well, they will be because it's playoffs, but it will be 'I've done this before, I can draw back on that' to perform at my best so we can hopefully pull out a win.

What do you remember about that 2020 experience when you were first told you would be playing after Lauren was hurt?

I was terrified. I had probably played maybe four points the entire season and I was like 'I need to step into her footsteps and make this seamless like she was still here.' I feel like that was just scary.

How do you think you've grown since that moment? That's the level you were once at and right now you're among the Canada West leaders in kills.

Obviously, I've grown a lot. It's helped to have good setters throughout the years. I've went from Kylie (Schubert) to Payton (Shimoda) and they're both very similar setting styles. Payton and I have grown together – our connection – and I've also gotten more confident in myself. That's allowed me to play as I do.

How do you think you will be remembered with the Griffins? What's your legacy?

I feel like if you asked different people on my team they'd say different things. I know a lot of the girls think I'm goofy on the court. I will sing and dance on the court, and I think that's something I'll be remembered for because sometimes Payton will be like 'Mariah, pay attention!' and I'll be, 'I am, I'm just singing.'

You have a career as a singer probably?

Uh, probably not.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about your time with the Griffins?

Just that I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to play volleyball at this level. Coming from a small town, it was a dream come true to come and play at the U SPORTS level. And just the friends that I'm made here. I look forward to watching them next year as an alum.


Chris Wandler's coach's quote:

"She's a glue player. Her willingness to be one of the leaders on the team is very evident. She cares deeply about each and every player and their wellness and contribution to the team. That shows up in unseen things behind the scenes for the group. Obviously, her performance on the court – I can't speak to her first four years – but obviously there's been a progression there. Her last year has been her best performing year stats-wise. So, that's a testament to her hard work and determination because I know her first two years she was a redshirt player."

 Sarah McGee goes into her last regular season weekend 11th in Canada West in both blocks and blocks/set (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Q&A with Sarah McGee:

Graduating with …

Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Political Science and a Minor in History

Do you have a career goal in mind?

I want to do Law School, but I want to first take a year off and maybe play pro in Europe. It would be really fun.

Do you have any opportunities at hand?

I just signed with an agent. I think some ideal places would be like Germany, France, Italy … honestly anywhere. Haley Gilf (Gilfillan) kind of set me up with that. 

I was just going to ask if anyone showed you the way.

Yeah, her and Kylie Schubert. They set the path up for us because I had no idea what to do. I messaged them and they helped me out. Kylie is in Luxembourg and Haley is in France.

Speaking of that generation of MacEwan volleyball, you've been around since 2019-20 – the last time the Griffins were in the playoffs. What's that journey been like to book-end your career with playoff berths?

Crazy. I think we could have made playoffs in my second year if it wasn't for COVID. Then only winning one game in my third year, that really sucked. And then last year winning only four games … it's been a process, but it's a nice full-circle moment, for sure. It's a lot of hard work that's paying off.

What can you learn from that 2019-20 team that was in the playoffs when you were a rookie?

That's it's a lot more than just being good at volleyball. They all got along so well, and they built a culture. They all worked very hard. They had a lot of natural raw talent, but even then I think they just worked well as a group. Coming out of COVID, it was hard playing with 14 new first-years and getting that feeling together. But now everyone on our team is so close and we connect so well, that's it's taking us to that next step.

What are some of your favourite memories from your time with the Griffins?

In my first year, it was during a New Year's tournament at the U of A, and I got to go in for the first time. I was just a redshirt and I got to go in for one set and I won the set on a tip that Kylie force-set me. I was so embarrassed, and Kylie was so nice about it after. 

Winning our only game in my third year – that was Jordyn Thomas' last year – so winning our last game of the year … that was such a hard year, and it was a good moment that just made everyone feel better about how hard that year was.

Beating Thompson Rivers last year was a good weekend, too. Everyone just worked so hard.

And one more memory that I just thought of – beating U of A in our first year for the only time in program history. It was amazing. I'm sad last weekend that we didn't beat U of A because I wanted another full circle moment. But that one (in 2019-20) was amazing. 

You've stepped into a leadership role as captain this year. What has that experience been like and how has it prepared you for the next chapter?

Hard. It's always a learning experience. With a new coach, it's been nice to use it as a reset moment, trying to build the culture up and helping Chris know what the team's all about. I think everyone on the team's a leader, though, so it's pretty easy. Payton, Mariah, Dani (Jodoin), Bronwyn (Ettinger), Mady Hoppus. We have leaders in every section on and off the court. It's kind of an easy job when everybody on the team's so great.

What would you say is your legacy in the program? How do you think others will remember you?

Maybe someone who was just really fun. Very much I've been very unapologetically myself and it's helped other girls come out of their shell with being a little bit weirder or just being themselves. I think that's maybe my legacy is just making everyone feel a little bit more comfortable. I find ways to connect with every single person on the team. I think that's something I can leave behind – finding ways to connect with and get to know everyone.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about your time on the Griffins?

I just want to say thank you to my mom and dad and my family. They come to all my games and have been very supportive. It's been good because of them.