While the season may be over for the players as they turn their attention to training and the offseason, the focus for coaches shifts to recruitment.
For the MacEwan University head coaches, recruitment is a year-long battle.
Fortunately for the Griffins men’s volleyball program, finding top-tier talent doesn’t involve much travelling, as Alberta boasts the best provincial volleyball program in Western Canada. However, when it comes to locking down that top-tier talent, athletes have to weigh competing offers from schools.
When it comes to attracting athletes in CanWest, MacEwan is at a considerable disadvantage due to the much larger school across the river, the University of Alberta.
Brad Poplawski, the head coach of the men’s volleyball team acknowledges the handicap when attracting athletes. “We are somewhat limited in program offering. If you look over at the U of A, I think 17 of their 34 athletes are in phys-ed, which is a big draw, and we don’t have that,” he said, referring to the fact that MacEwan only offers a bachelor of physical education transfer program.
Despite the handicap, MacEwan has still managed to obtain elite athletes. Max Vriend, a freshman to the 2015/16 roster, was a top recruit for his year, and his commitment to the Griffins is a large step forward for the program.
Vriend was MacEwan’s first male named to the CIS All-Canadian team, and the success he had was in large part thanks to coaching and facilities at MacEwan.
Despite MacEwan’s adolescence in the CIS, the university offers a few benefits that many larger schools do not. “We have beautiful facilities here,” said Poplawski. “Our gym is one of the best in Canada West, having the athlete’s workout facility, and having the smaller class sizes is a big draw for a lot of athletes.”
For decades, the attitude for Edmontonians and other Albertans was one-dimensional; it was always about being a Golden Bear. Now that the Griffins have emerged as an alternative, MacEwan is still struggling to break the norm.
“A big part of finding athletes is seeing if your goals align,” Poplawski said.
Poplawski says that the headline players are not always the best bet. “Sometimes it’s not the guys who are starring in their role [that we target],” he said.
“You have to find some guys who are undervalued in their role and bring them up.”
The coaching staff also wants to find athletes that want to be at MacEwan. They aren’t in the market for players who plan to stay two years and then transfer to the University of Alberta. They hope to sleuth out players that want to spend all five of their eligible years with the Griffins logo on their chest.
Looking forward to the 2016/17 season, Poplawski seems confident about the next batch of recruits coming to MacEwan.
“I think we’ve got a good group of guys coming up this year, he said. “We’re going to have two new international guys coming up, and one is just a beast.”
Regardless of the past season’s outcomes, the tangibles are looking up for the Griffins moving into the next season. The addition of two new international players and a young roster with some CIS experience under their belts makes Poplawski feel confident his team can take the next step.
“The talk around the team for next year is encouraging, and it’s not just words,” he said.