Griffins control their own destiny in race for final playoff spot as they get set to visit Cougars

Ethan Nashim blasts a ball against the Alberta Golden Bears during a game last weekend. The Griffins will visit Mount Royal University on Friday and Saturday (Eduardo Perez photo).
Ethan Nashim blasts a ball against the Alberta Golden Bears during a game last weekend. The Griffins will visit Mount Royal University on Friday and Saturday (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The Canada West men's volleyball playoff picture will become clear soon, but as it stands, the MacEwan Griffins control their own destiny.

Under the regional schedule format this season, only one of the 17 teams in Canada West will miss the post-season.

Currently, the battle for the final wild card spot is between 1-13 MacEwan and 0-12 UFV.

In different divisions and unable to play each other – (although for comparison's sake, they met in preseason with MacEwan winning 3-0) – it will simply come down to who has the better record.

So, if the Griffins can find success on the road against Mount Royal University (5-9), it will go a long way to locking up a spot. They visit the Cougars on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

"I want to earn our way in," said Griffins head coach Brad Poplawski. "I don't want to be sitting every night watching the TV hoping someone loses for us to do something. This is still in our control. We have four games left this year where we don't have to rely on someone else.

"It's up to us to seize that opportunity. I told the guys, it's right there for you. But again, are we doing everything we can to make sure we're ready to go? That just all goes back to a very unique year with a different format, but we have to want it and we have to go earn it ourselves."

MacEwan will finish the regular season at home against Calgary (9-5) Feb. 25-26, while UFV finishes with home series vs. Trinity Western (12-0) and UBC-Okanagan (6-4) over the next two weekends, respectively.

MRU is the only team the Griffins have beaten this season – a 3-1 triumph on Nov. 27 – so there is a template for success against them. They also topped the Cougars 3-2 during the Dino Cup preseason tournament in September.

Conversely, MacEwan has also lost to MRU three times in regular season – 3-0 on Nov. 26, 3-2 on Jan. 21 and 3-0 on Jan. 22.

"It's been such a unique year playing everyone six times," said Poplawski. "I think you have to earn confidence. That's earned by the work you put in in training.

"Look at the Olympics in the years leading up – if you're on that starting line and you know deep down you didn't do everything, I don't think you're confident."

On the Griffins' level, that translates to: have you done everything you can in training leading up to this weekend? If so, confidence should be automatic.

"I think confidence is earned and I think our team has to earn it in training," said Poplawski. "Showing up every day and not wasting any reps – not ever going through the motions. Just having a really consistent approach to everything we do.

"What people see and what's visible is our efforts on Saturday nights. Really, our work behind the scenes is what gives them the confidence to perform."

Whoever comes out ahead between MacEwan and UFV over the next two weekends will make the opening round of the playoffs March 4-6 in Pool B, set to be hosted by the top seed in the Central Division (Alberta).

West 2 (likely to be UBC or UBC-Okanagan) and East 3 (could be any of the four teams in that division at this point – Winnipeg, Brandon, Saskatchewan or Manitoba) will also be in Pool B with the top two teams advancing past the opening round.