EDMONTON – The nation's top volleyball conference returns to action this Friday, as the 2017-18 Canada West men's volleyball schedule begins. The Mount Royal Cougars will host the Winnipeg Wesmen Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.
Once again this season, there will be no shortage of talent – both individual and team – on display across the conference, as CW looks to make it 17 national titles in the last 18 seasons on the men's side.
After a 6th place finish and a 0-2 quarter-final, MRU heads into the 2017-18 season ranked at No. 4 in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll. The loss of starters Sam Brisbane, leading assists getter from last year, and middle Josh Kirkham, who led the team in blocks, will no doubt leave the Cougars with some holes to fill. Fourth-year Tanner Greves will assume the starting setter position this season and will also serve as the team's captain. Other key returnees include libero Jonathan Phillips who led the team in digs last season, and Riley Friesen, a fifth-year outside hitter who recorded a team-high 322 kills in 2016-17. Some new faces include two transfer in Patrik Toze and Godi Jibi, and true rookies Mitch Newman and Jackson Brennan.
Cougars head coach Shawn Sky is excited to get going and see where the team can take themselves over the next six months.
"We are eager to get our season started. It's exciting and incredibly challenging. We play in the toughest conference in the country. Typically 7-8 Canada West teams are top ten in the country. Only three teams from Canada West will earn the right to go to Nationals. It's a meat grinder. Every night, every weekend you are tested. It doesn't matter who you are playing or what their record is. We have a lot of work to do to simply earn a playoff spot in Canada West. Hopefully we can earn that right and at the end of the year be one of those three teams at Nationals. It's a challenging task and we have a lot of work ahead of us. Most of all, it's a lot of fun."
In the men's pre-season poll, the defending U SPORTS champion Trinity Western Spartans enter the season the favourites to repeat, as last year's CW champions earned 140 points and eight first-place votes. Not far behind the Spartans are the UBC Thunderbirds (135 pts.), who finished fourth at the national tournament. Rounding out the top three are the 2017 national silver medalists the Alberta Golden Bears (119 pts.), who dropped the national championship game on home court to TWU back in March.
Together, the Spartans and Bears have combined to win the last four CW and U SPORTS titles and are expected to continue their battle for CW supremacy this season, along with UBC, who is searching for the program's first CW title since 1983-84.
Trinity Western will be led the likes of fifth-year setter Adam Schriemer, who is looking to help TWU to their third consecutive CW and U SPORTS banners.
For UBC, another fifth-year student-athlete is going to be the key cog in the T-Birds' attack, as right side Irvan Brar is a big reason why UBC seems poised for a run at their first conference or national title since the mid-1980s. The Thunderbirds are coming off a fourth-place performance a year ago at the national tournament in Edmonton and without any key graduations, are expected to be even better this season.
REVISED PLAYOFF FORMAT
The race to the CW championship has a new twist this season, as there will no longer be a conference Final Four tournament to determine the CW champion. Instead, the conference playoffs will lead to a single conference championship game, ensuring a host participates for conference gold, which was not guaranteed under the existing format. The number of playoff teams will also increase from seven to eight this season.
The changes, which were approved at the CW AGM in May, mean best-of-three quarter-finals will be played February 22-25, then best-of-three conference semis March 1-4, and finally the CW championship game either March 9 or 10. A bronze medal game will also be played CW championship weekend in men's volleyball, as three conference teams are headed to nationals March 15-18 at McMaster University.
For more on all 13 Canada West men's volleyball teams, take a look at the full team previews here.
2017 CW men's volleyball pre-season coaches poll
Place / Team / Points (First-place votes)
- Trinity Western / 140 (8)
- UBC / 135 (5)
- Alberta / 119
- Mount Royal / 98
- Calgary / 97
- Winnipeg / 81
- *Brandon / 78
- Saskatchewan / 78
- Manitoba / 52
- Thompson Rivers / 50
- UBC Okanagan / 46
- MacEwan / 27
- Regina / 13
NOTES: First-place vote worth 12 pts., second-place worth 11 pts. etc. / *Awarded higher position based on greater number of higher placed votes.