Battle-tested Griffins gaining confidence as they roll into best-of-three QF series against UFV

Kara Frith prepares for a big middle attack against UBC Okanagan last weekend. The Griffins will visit UFV this weekend in a Canada West quarter-final series (Eduardo Perez photo).
Kara Frith prepares for a big middle attack against UBC Okanagan last weekend. The Griffins will visit UFV this weekend in a Canada West quarter-final series (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – After their season dawned with a promising 3-1 start, the MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball team was primed and ready for a massive early test as the calendar flipped to November.

The No. 7 team in Canada right after they finished breakfast.

That's the scenario the last time the Griffins visited the UFV Cascades, and they weren't ready.

Back-to-back straight sets defeats sent them back to the drawing board to get more seasoning.

UFV, now the fifth-ranked team in U SPORTS after finishing third in the conference with a 20-4 record, is MacEwan's opponent again, this time in a best-of-three quarter-final playoff series on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – if necessary – in Abbotsford, B.C. (7 p.m. MT all days, Canada West TV).

"We're a little different team than we were back in the third week of the season," said Griffins head coach Chris Wandler, whose team finished sixth in the Canada West standings with a 12-12 record. "We're a little bit more battle-tested and we're a little bit more confident in our abilities. I think those things are important coming into a big week in the first round of the playoffs. We're different."

They've run a gauntlet of nationally-ranked teams in the second semester – No. 3 Manitoba Jan. 5-6, No. 7 Alberta on Feb. 2-3, and No. 6 Trinity Western on Feb. 9-10.

Although they were swept in all those matches, all were a lot closer than the scores indicate. 

Five of seven sets against Manitoba could have gone either way. Half of the sets against Alberta were also neck and neck. And they pushed Trinity Western to four sets in their second match of the weekend, outpacing them in attacking efficiency, taking them to extra points in two of the sets, and losing another one 25-23 after the Spartans overcame a 20-13 deficit.

"I think some confidence and reassurance and winning games," said Griffins captain Sarah McGee when asked about what's different about the squad since they last played UFV. "Even when we played in Langley and went to four with Trinity, I think just playing games that have helped us build our confidence and just realize it's about 'we're going to go after them.' It's not just going in and kind being like 'let's see what happens.'

"It's 'let's get 'em, let's get the upset.' There's a lot of drive."

That will be the mentality this weekend in MacEwan's first playoff series since 2019-20 when they were upset by Thompson Rivers at home.

"Confidence is everything," said Wandler. "I think knowing that we have played with and come really close to some of those highly-ranked teams in our conference and nation gives us the ability that we can show up on Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday, and be the winner."

They'll have to find a way to slow down the talented Attieh sisters – Gabrielle, Lauren, and Talia – who are 1-2-3 in kills on the Cascades with 735 kills between the three of them.

"They're a very high-level talented group that plays very consistent, so we're going to have to bring our best game in order to take advantage of the dips and lulls that every team in the conference has," said Wandler. "They're no exception to that. 

"There's no doubt that those three drive the train on UFV. We're looking forward to the challenge."

Mariah Bereziuk led the Griffins with 316 kills this season, tied for third in Canada West, while setter Payton Shimoda, from left, and libero Bronwyn Ettinger also were among the best at their position in the conference (Eduardo Perez photo).

Mariah Bereziuk's kills number tops all three sisters, though, as she finished tied for third in Canada West with 316 kills and was second in kills/set (3.95). Setter Payton Shimoda, meanwhile, is third in the conference in assists/set (9.70) – a program record in MacEwan's Canada West era.

So, as much as they've game-planned for UFV, more of their preparation has been on what they can do to maximize their strengths.

"The idea is we're not trying to change too much," said McGee, who was ninth in Canada West in blocks/set (0.99). "Our game plan is always focused on ourselves rather than the other team. At the end of the day, it's on our side what we can do."

Beyond the X's and O's, though, is belief and the Griffins are rolling into the playoffs off a huge and emotional win over UBC Okanagan to clinch sixth place on the final night of the regular season last Saturday.

"It dove-tails into everything," said Wandler. "We had a good training session yesterday and the girls are really hyped and excited. We're focusing on execution while still maintaining that idea of composure and togetherness and connectedness. I think that's of utmost importance. 

"Everything that we've done to this point has just got us to the point of 'we can do this' and 'we just need to play our style of game.' "