By: Griffin Marsh
The McMaster men’s volleyball team, the Ontario University Athletics defending champions, produced a dominant weekend of matches at Windsor and Western. This is how the team initially intended to start the season before their first OUA game resulted in a shocking loss.
The OUA volleyball season is long. It is challenging and strong performances are asked of teams quickly. These are the lessons that the volleyball team is grappling with as the 2017-2018 season begins to pick up speed.
Now five games into the season, the Marauders sit at a record of 4-1 coming off of a weekend double header on the road at Windsor and Western. In Windsor on Saturday, the Marauders swept the Lancers clean, taking the match 3-0. At Western on Nov. 12, McMaster fought for a five set victory, taking the fifth and deciding set 15-13.
This was a much-needed bounce back for the Marauders, who sat at 2-1 coming into the weekend. This included an eye-opening loss at home to the Ryerson Rams in the season opener. Consistency is key for coach Dave Preston, which does not come overnight.
“I really like the way we are starting to play,” said Preston. “I am not sure I could have said that a couple of weeks ago. I think our efficiency and quality can start to improve a lot, but I do not think there is a coach in the country who could disagree with that for any of their teams.”
For the Marauders, this season has been a roller coaster so far. Following the challenging loss to Ryerson, McMaster won both its next two matches against Waterloo and Guelph in very different fashions.
“Waterloo was the full package,” said Preston. “Then Guelph was kind of a wash because we played two good sets and two average sets. So right now, I think we are pretty much average.”
What was clear in talking to Preston is that no one in that dressing room is striving to be average.
“For us to go from low to super high to average, as a coach, those are rides I that I do not really want to be on,” Preston said.
Shifting the focus back to this past weekend, that search for consistency and excellence in play seemed to begin to express itself. This notably emerged against Windsor, who came into the match ranked fifth in the country.
According to Preston, this was no small feat as Windsor boasts two of the best outside hitters in the country in Pierce Johnson and Brad Gyemi.
Against McMaster, Gyemi was the most effective, scoring 13 points. Yet neither player could easily solve the Marauder defence, a huge key to their success.
The Marauders also finished the Windsor match with a strong middle presence, strong defensive performances and continued to work to limit the serving errors — three places that hurt McMaster against Ryerson.
That makes three road wins in a row for McMaster, something that coach Preston believes to be of great importance.
While the results against Windsor and Western may suggest a different reality for this team, the casual fan may have noticed that McMaster found itself outside the U Sports Top 10 this week for the first time in many years.
When this was raised with coach Preston, he was quick to put the panic button back into the drawer and explain that even when the things have been excellent in previous seasons, the Top 10 was never a point of discussion for this program.
“I think people use the Top 10 for a variety of reasons,” Preston explained. “Some use it to validate, some use it to motivate, some use it to market.”
Coach Preston also clarified that there is a new ranking system being employed by U Sports this year, called aptly, the Volleyball Ranking System.
The VRS combines your results, your opponents’ results and your opponents’ opponents’ results, including the margin of victory within each match, to determine a mathematical ranking.
This system is much more controlled and unbiased compared to the coach’s poll that had been employed in previous years. It also allows for unity between the Top 10 rankings and the eventual National Championship seedings when those are released during the playoffs.
What that means today is that there is very little data on this Marauder team, having played their pre-season against non-U Sports programs, and the data that does exist may not be totally representative of the whole picture.
Either way, this is not phasing Preston and his team.
“We do not think of ourselves as a good team because others think that as well,” explained Preston. “We think of ourselves as a good team because we know what we are capable of and what we want to play.”
Following wins in Windsor and Western, I may have to agree with him. This season may not have initially gone according to plan, but this team will find its groove. When it does, the OUA should watch out, because this team remains primed to compete for an OUA and U Sports Championship this season and well into the future.
The next step in that search for its groove is Nov. 19, as McMaster travels to Brock to face the Badgers at 4 p.m.