Sherwood Park resident and former Salisbury Sabres volleyball coach Ken Briggs has made history by becoming the first MacEwan University Griffins bench boss to win a Canada West coach of the year award.
This season, Briggs guided the Griffins to their first post-season appearance since making the move to U-Sports competition six years ago, a major leap for the program.
Missing the playoffs in 2018-19 on the wrong end of a three-way tiebreaker with a 12-12 record, the Griffins improved by five wins in 2019-20 to 17-7 to finish fourth in Canada West and earn the right to host a best-of-three quarter-final series.
MacEwan was swept by the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, but Briggs was nonetheless selected by his peers as the conference’s women’s volleyball coach of the year.
“I think it’s a tremendous honour for the institution and a testament to all the hard work of the student-athletes and coaching staff,” said MacEwan Director of Athletics Ken Schildroth, in a school release. “We’re really proud of their accomplishments and Ken’s ability to motivate those young women to higher levels.
“He’s got a very experienced roster and he’s put in a lot of time in developing their skills, so it’s nice to see him get rewarded. They came together at the right time. I think that’s a tremendous credit to them as a group of women.”
The former social studies teacher had a long run of success as the head coach of the Salisbury Sabres senior girls team from 1993 to 2000, taking the Sal squad to six city championships, five provincial medals and three top 4A level provincial championship titles (1993,1995 and 1998) during his eight-year tenure with the team.
Nicole Ban, who is an associate coach on the Griffins’ staff, was thrilled to see Briggs finally get recognized.
“I played for Ken and I’ve been working for Ken for over 10 years,” she said. “He’s one of the hardest-working coaches and doesn’t get recognition for it because we’ve been adjusting to the challenges of Canada West. I’m just really proud of what he’s done and the growth that he’s really made since we’ve joined Canada West.”
The MacEwan director of athletics said it was a special season for the Griffins group.
“It was phenomenal,” Schildroth said. “There were many instances in games of exceptional volleyball. It was a phenomenal experience for those young women and the institution. It’s emblematic of what we’re trying to do.”
“I think this year we have the athletes that finally allowed us to win and have success,” Ban added. “Ken works just as hard every single season that we’ve had. But to have athletes to succeed and excel on the court allowed Canada West and the other coaches who voted him in to recognize that we did have something truly special.”
Briggs has been MacEwan’s head coach for 18 seasons, the last six of those in Canada West. He has a 59-85 regular season record since the Griffins joined the higher-level from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference in 2014-15.
The Griffins have been trending upward under Briggs of late, going from just four victories in 2017-18 to 12 a year ago to 17 in 2019-20.
“Ken’s really taking feedback from everybody — his athletes, myself, other coaches in the league,” Ban said. “He’s a lifelong learner and I think that’s something I’m truly proud of because I do challenge him as an assistant coach. He’s really working to improve himself and I think that really shows in our performance on the court.”