February 23, 2007
GPRC ready for provincials
By JEFF KORENKO
GPRC Wolves women's volleyball coach Grace Scott didn't mind taking another stroll down memory lane as her squad was hitting the highway Wednesday bound for the ACAC championships that get underway today at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.
It was just two years ago that Scott was an assistant coach with the Wolves, who entered the provincial tournament seeded fourth. Those with long memories will remember that team was coached by Lee Carter, and they'll also remember that Carter boldly predicted that his team would win the province.
And he was right - buoyed by beating the conference's best team in the semifinal, went on to capture the title in Red Deer. With her team going in this weekend under similar circumstances - they are seeded fourth after posting a sub-.500 11-13 regular-season record - Scott said she has taken moments over the past week to remind the girls of that accomplishment in hopes it will spur them to overachieve. "Absolutely," Scott remarked over her cellphone when asked if she figured another unlikely run could be made possible.
"Within the top four teams, especially at playoff time, anything can happen. We have taken a couple sets from Mount Royal, so we know we can win against them. But it will take some pretty consistent play on our part to match them," said Scott in reference to the fact that should the Wolves advance past the Medicine Hat Rattlers in a quarter-final match this afternoon, they would likely face the top-ranked Cougars in a Saturday semifinal.
But the focus during preparations since the regular season ended two weekends ago has been on Medicine Hat first and foremost, and then the team will worry about what should follow, Scott said. "We are going in feeling well-prepared. They are a little bit of a smaller team," she said of the fifth-seeded Rattlers, who finished atop the weaker White Division with a record of 17-3. "Offensively we are a stronger team. They are a decent team in terms of their defence and playing consistent ball. We know we definitely cannot fool around with these guys. We have to match their consistency. "If we can start strong, our offence should dominate in the end."
The men's and women's teams left Grande Prairie together Wednesday, with the men continuing on to Red Deer, where they will play in their provincial championships also seeded fourth.
Finishing the regular season at 14-10 and fourth in the Blue Division by playing their last four matches without sparkplug libero Curran Speager, the Wolves enter a quarter-final tilt today against the fifth-seeded SAIT Trojans - 20-0; first in the White - with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. And Speager's tweaked knee has healed to the point he is good to go, said head coach Loren Jacula. "We are pretty excited to get going, obviously," he said. "Everybody is healthy again and there has been a really good calm and loose atmosphere surrounding our team. Let's go play."
After sitting out consecutive weekends to end the regular season, Speager - who led the ACAC Blue Division with an average of 2.9 digs per game this year - has eased his way back into playing form. The plan, however, will be to take a cautious approach early on playing-time wise with Speager, Jacula said. "We will be pretty careful with him, but he has been practising back to normal over the last week and a half. I hope he is going to be good to go. Anytime a player misses a big tournament because of an injury, you feel for them. "I don't think he can do any more damage to (his knee).
"He makes the guys feel more confident when he is on the floor because he is so good at his job. He is one of the top liberos in Canada and when he is out there, the guys don't have to worry about other aspects of the game, they can just worry about themselves." In dominating the White Division this season, the Trojans lost just 15 of 75 sets.
The Wolves will advance to the semis by being sound fundamentally and staying away from unforced errors, Jacula preached. "We are bigger than them and I think we run a quicker offence and are more experienced. As long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, we will be just fine."
And then - should everything fall into place as expected and the top-seed MacEwan Griffins (20-4; first in Blue) get by the eight-seed Lakeland College Rustlers - the Wolves feel the draw works in their favour.
Had they finished second or third in the Blue, there was a distinct possibility they could have played either the Red Deer College Kings or the Mount Royal College Cougars in the semis.
Grande Prairie was 0-4 against Red Deer and 1-3 versus Mount Royal in league play, while they were 3-3 against the No. 1 nationally-ranked Griffins in league and exhibition play this season.
"I just hope our guys have a good feeling, a good confidence coming out of that first-round match today," said Jacula. "We have been so close with (MacEwan) all year and I expect more of the same this weekend. I can honestly say that it will simply come down to who wants it most that night, because them matches have been that close.