Fraser Caldwell

Sports Editor


If the Marauders’ most recent matches demonstrate anything, it is that a single day can make a world of difference in sport.

Facing two top-tier opponents in the opening weekend of their conference season, the Maroon and Grey put on a ruthless display to sweep the Windsor Lancers on Oct. 21 before dropping a four-set decision to the Western Mustangs the following night after a tentative and error-strewn performance.

The Saturday evening contest represented a shocking step back for a team that appeared to be hitting an early stride in their first competitive effort of the young campaign.

Perhaps the area of most concern for the Marauders originated from the service line, where McMaster made eight service errors in the opening set against the nationally ranked Mustangs. Speaking in the wake of his team’s schizophrenic weekend showing, coach Dave Preston pinpointed his team’s deficiency in simple mechanics.

“The obvious thing at this point is just fundamentals,” said Preston. “We didn’t serve well at all, especially in the first set. It’s been our Achilles Heel so far this season and something we’ve been really focusing on. We thought we had it under wraps and I think we took care of it very well on Friday night.

“In that first set on Saturday night it almost exploded on us. We ended up missing eight serves in that set. And a missed serve is a two-point swing. It’s one we don’t get and one they do.”

One explanation for McMaster’s puzzling reversal of fortunes could lie in the respective reputations of their weekend opponents.

While the Lancers remain a team on the cusp of OUA success, the Mustangs have long been a provincial powerhouse, and posed the stiffest test to the Marauders’ championship drive last season.

However for his part, Preston dismisses any suggestion that his squad was cowed by the specter of the London outfit.

“I don’t think our performance has as much to do with who we’re playing as how we’re playing,” explained the coach. “I don’t know what their [Western’s] mentality is when they play us. But I know that with us right now, we’re very focused on ourselves.

“Yes there is an opponent and a competitive level to it, and you can’t ignore that, but we’re trying to minimize that aspect a little bit right now.”

Whatever the cause of McMaster’s struggles against their purple-shirted rivals, the end result was an ugly one. But if Oct. 22 exhibited the effect that errors can have on a squad’s performance, the demolition of the previous night hinted at the pure potency that the Marauders possess when their game remains untarnished.

Preston is well aware that his team will need to play a much cleaner variety of volleyball in order to succeed in the shark tank that the OUA is quickly becoming, but argues that simply avoiding errors is not enough.

“We have to do it properly,” the coach remarked on limiting errors. “We did that in the Western match. We managed our errors pretty well. In fact, we had those eight service errors in the first set and none in the second.

“But in order to do that we were serving them lollipops, and they ended up getting more confidence by running their offence. There’s a competitive pressure that you have to put on a team while you’re managing your errors.

“I’ve said it to the guys a number of times. Every one of our serves makes someone happy.”

Preston knows as well that the Marauders’ competition will not idly wait for the Maroon and Grey to find their feet. McMaster will face challenging opposition nearly every time they take the court, as parity increasingly becomes the watchword in the OUA.

A week after their tussle with last season’s division finalists, the Marauders’ next hurdle comes in the form of two more highly credible squads. The Maroon and Grey’s bench boss will not underestimate the task facing his team as they visit the Waterloo Warriors and Guelph Gryphons this weekend.

“With Waterloo, I don’t even think I would use the term ‘dark horse’,” said Preston. “Because I don’t think they’re going to surprise anybody this year. That team is going to be amazing.

“And Guelph was a couple points away from the OUA final last year in Western’s building. You look at both of those programs and they’re both running at top speed right now. So we’ve got some work to do to go into two road matches and play the way we want to play.”

Whether or not that work on the training court pays dividends will be visible in short order, as the Marauders travel to Waterloo on Oct. 28, before confronting the Guelph Gryphons a night later.

Jeff Tam


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