By: Griffin Marsh
The McMaster men’s volleyball team showed grit, resiliency and power while taking both matches of the North American Challenge against two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
World-class volleyball returned to the Burridge Gym last weekend as the men’s volleyball team hosted Ohio State for a two-game series, a preseason tune-up that has become synonymous with sold out crowds, hard hits and tremendous volleyball.
But to understand what this game means for this team, we must reverse the clocks a couple of weeks to this team’s preseason trip to Poland over reading week. While in Poland, the men were exposed to professional-level volleyball and have worked to reflect on that experience leading into this past weekend against Ohio State.
The opportunity to face some of Poland’s best and the NCAA’s best in the lead up to your U Sports regular season is a very unique reality, and something that is not lost on head coach Dave Preston.
“We have to do our student-athlete experience in our own way,” said Preston. “I am really happy with what we are able to provide our students in terms of their volleyball experience,”
An important learning experience in Poland and a firm belief in the McMaster process from the head coach down set the stage for a two-match series against Ohio State this past weekend. The team was able to apply what they had learned in their offseason.
Remembering that the North American Challenge is a preseason friendly for both these teams was easy to forget when entering the packed, noisy gymnasium on both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The first set on Saturday was close and intense, with McMaster squeaking out a 29-27 victory, much to the enjoyment of the roaring crowd.
The rest of Saturday’s match was an up-and-down affair, with the Buckeyes taking the next two sets, including a third set that McMaster controlled throughout but lost after a few unlucky bounces near the end. The resiliency was expressed in the last two sets as McMaster settled in, flipped the momentum and took the first match on a dominant fifth set, 15-8.
Sunday was exciting, as a completely different set of players took the court, featuring some young McMaster players and backups. The outcome was impressive though, as McMaster swept the Buckeyes 3-0.
Throughout this preseason refinement period, and even through the excitement and energy that was associated with a thrilling North American Challenge, coach Preston is firm in his emphasis that the U Sports season is where their focus lies.
“We have to do our student-athlete experience in our own way. I am really happy with what we are able to provide our students in terms of their volleyball experience,”
Men’s Volleyball Team
“The trip to Poland, as good as it was, and the Ohio State matches, as good as they [were], won’t be near as good as what we will experience in league play,” said Preston. “The whole purpose of all of that is to just get us ready for our league play.”
Preparatory or not, Preston will have a lot of positives to take from the North American Challenge, both on an individual and team level. On a team level, the strength and composure to battle back from down a set on Saturday night is definitely a bright spot for coach Preston.
On an individual level, the stars with third-year outside hitter, Matt Passalent, and fifth-year outside hitter, Brandon Koppers. Together they combined for 38 kills and four aces, a dominating performance from both of them on Saturday.
Asked before these matches about the individual talent on this team, coach Preston was excited about what both these players could deliver this year. Passalent is developing into the break-out player, with two seasons under his belt, and Koppers finds himself on the team’s leadership council, already actively working to create a positive and productive culture within the team room, according to coach Preston.
While there has been clear improvement from many individual players on this team, this offseason’s improvement was also supported by a few players’ involvement with varying levels of Canada’s national volleyball team.
Passalent, and second year libero Jordan Piereira spent time with the Junior National Team this summer. Koppers, on the other hand, found a role with the National B Team in a starting role. The energy of the program was also buoyed by recent graduates Jayson McCarthy and Danny Demyanenko finding positions with the National Team in different capacities.
For Preston, this success outside of McMaster just cements the message he is trying to express.
“These are great statements of what we do here, how we are built, and what our day to day delivery model is,” said Preston. “I think in the team room it really helps because the guys know that if we put in what is designed every day, those are some potential outcomes.”
Whatever the message may be, it seems to be lighting up the locker room. Coming off of Poland and a statement performance against Ohio State, energy is high even if this team looks different than last year.
“One of the beauties of collegiate sport is the cyclical nature,” said Preston. “You only got guys for five years, whether you want them for more or not, so it’s turning over. From a team perspective it is really exciting and it is really interesting to see how, even with the core guys being back, what the different chemistry and culture is on each team.”
The culture and chemistry seem to be blending in an exciting way, and this has the men’s volleyball team excited for the year ahead, which leads directly to the U Sports National Championships in our own Burridge Gym in March of next year.
For now, the team looks ahead to the upcoming Ontario University Athletics season. The first game is Oct. 27 at home against the Ryerson Rams, and judging by this past weekend, you will want to be watching.