Honesty, integrity, respect and excellence. These are the four pillars that drive the McMaster men’s volleyball team every season. For head coach David Preston, these values have nothing to do with volleyball or sports themselves, but everything to do with developing student-athletes a whole. So far, this has definitely been working in his favour.
The team headed into the 2017 winter break with a 6-1 record, including a five-game winning streak, leaving them in first place in the Ontario University Athletics West Division and ranked ninth in U Sports.
Although this is quite an impressive feat, it is the 7-0 record against international competition in the last two years, which includes a 4-0 record this season against two of the top National Collegiate Athletic Association’s teams, that has people talking.
The Marauders remained undefeated against the reigning NCAA Division I champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes, back in October when they faced them for the second time during the Nike Team North American Challenge.
Against the visiting Buckeyes, the Marauders were ultimately able to pull ahead and leave Burridge Gym as international champions after a close game the first day and a second day that saw the Marauders go undefeated.
Then over the winter break, McMaster played host once again to American opponents, the Long Beach State University 49ers. The Mac men proved to not be the nicest of hosts, handily defeating their Californian foes in back-to-back games.
The set scores against the 49ers were 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, 21-25 and 15-13, leaving the team, fans, friends and family with an awesome head start to their New Year’s Eve celebrations.
But for Preston, the undefeated international record is the last thing on his mind. For him, being able to play teams at a high level and not have that competitive consequence of seeing them in the playoffs is one of the major benefits.
“You want to play at the highest level you can but you don’t want to show everything you got so early in the season and have it come back and haunt you in the playoff stretch,” said Preston.
“It is not about our record or ranking because that is just not something we talk about. We just prepare for our next opponent and take care of our side of the net.”
“Playing a new group of guys from Long Beach is a good task for us,” added Andrew Richards, Mac’s leading scorer of the final night. “Especially when it comes to creating a game plan against a team we have never played before.”
Although the level of exposure of playing such high-profile programs is a bonus for McMaster Athletics, the Marauders mainly use these matches to see what gets exposed and what works well or not. Then they make the appropriate changes to play even better against the top Canadian teams.
“This way you get to play great competitive matches with zero competitive cost,” Preston added.
The combination of the high profile matches and the regular season winning record has brought out a large number of consistent supporters to McMaster’s Burridge Gymnasium, a luxury not many Canadian universities have.
“Our goal is to try and create that championship culture,” said Preston. “So that when we get into those matches that we really want to be in at the end of the year, it is not that much different then what we have dealt with all year.”
The addition of the new Litzen Family scoreboard generously donated by T. Litzen’s Sports, the entertainment provided by DJ Jukebox and McMaster Athletics, plus the impressive level of athleticism by the Marauders themselves has all honed not only championship culture, but has also increased Marauder fan culture.
“To actually play in a national championship and represent your school is a feeling like no other. To be able to do it at your school, for your school is unbelievable.”
“It is good for us to get used to using that energy from the fans in a good way rather than getting nervous from it,” said Richards.
With the 2018 U Sports Men’s Volleyball Championship being held at McMaster in March, the ultimate goal for the men’s team is not just to be able to play in it, but to come away with the win.
“To actually play in a national championship and represent your school is a feeling like no other,” said Preston. “To be able to do it at your school, for your school is unbelievable.”
Hamilton last hosted the national championships two years ago, but the Marauders fell short to the Trinity Western University Spartans. The Marauders will now have an opportunity to relive that experience in front of a roaring home crowd. But coming away with a win is still McMaster’s main objective.
The Marauders go into each season with three goals: securing as much home court advantage as they can for the playoffs, qualifying to compete for an OUA championship and winning the chance to compete at the national championships against teams from across Canada.
“Everything we do is around those three goals,” said Preston. “It is not about our record or ranking because that is just not something we talk about. We just prepare for our next opponent and take care of our side of the net.”
As for what is next for the 2018 half of the 2017-2018 season, Preston and the Marauders do not plan on making any major adjustments. The team enjoyed a bye week right after the break and has been preparing to face their next opponents the Brock Badgers and Windsor Lancers on Jan. 12 and 13.
The Marauders find themselves currently ranked tenth in the Jan. 9 U Sports national poll as the only Ontario team to crack the list. Solid wins against the Badgers and the Lancers stand in their way of moving up in the rankings.
The match against the Lancers will be one to watch as the Windsor team sits tied for second in the OUA West, two points behind McMaster and looking to move ahead in the playoff hunt.