Fraser Caldwell

Sports Editor

 

The Marauders had a well-considered plan of attack in hand as they entered Alumni Hall on Jan. 28 to take on the top team in Ontario.

Unfortunately, when that approach failed to yield results against the Western Mustangs, the Maroon and Grey proved unable to adapt under fire. The result was the most humbling loss of the Marauders’ season, coming as it did in straight sets and never seeming in doubt.

McMaster setter T.J. Sanders – who returned to action in London after a concussion – believes that his team’s defeat followed from a static style of play that never addressed the tactical adjustments brought about by the host Mustangs.

“I think we had a really good game plan, and going into [the match] we prepared the way we needed to,” Sanders said of the Saturday afternoon clash. “But [Western] changed a few things in their game, and we have to change along with them. For example, Garrett [May] kept hitting cross-court and the middles kept hitting the ‘T’s.

“It took us too long to make those adjustments. It should just be a point-by-point thing, where the next time a player does something we’re there with the block or the dig. We didn’t do that very well and it let them play their own game and get confident. On the flip side, we couldn’t stop that and it obviously brought us off our game.”

In the wake of the sobering defeat in London, Sanders indicates that the Marauders reiterated their need to focus on fundamentals, areas such as serving and passing in which they struggled in the loss.

“We agreed that we needed to take care of the simple stuff,” said the setter. “The word we used was ‘obvious,’ because we needed to fix some obvious things. We didn’t serve very well or pass very well. They served pretty well and passed pretty well.

“We were all upset about it, but at the end of the day, we had another great team to play the next day – the third-best team in our conference. We knew that we had to put it behind us, and that we’ll get another shot at them.”

The team talk evidently had its desired effect, because the Marauders responded strongly in their bounce-back game against the Lancers in Windsor. A notoriously dangerous squad, the Lancers were swept aside in three fairly routine sets on Jan. 29 as the Maroon and Grey reasserted their quality.

It was an unusually tame effort from the Windsor side, and Sanders believes that much of the team’s trouble derived from the absence of outside hitter Ryan Le through injury, forcing the Lancers’ libero to move to the wing.

“I was a little surprised,” said Sanders of Windsor’s weak showing. “Especially in their gym, because when we played there last season they played a phenomenal match. I think though that missing Ryan Le on the outside really hurt them. He’s a pretty big chunk of their offense and big voice for their team.

“With him out, they had to put their libero on the left side and bring in a backup. It’s tough for any team to adjust to something like that.”

Whatever the reason for their opponents’ struggles, the Marauders gladly took the Sunday victory and the two points that accompanied it. The result moved McMaster’s record to 12-3 on the season, keeping the squad in firm control of second spot in the OUA standings.

Despite their humbling Jan. 28 loss to the Mustangs, the Marauders remain ninth in the CIS national rankings.

McMaster will play its final home contest of the conference schedule this coming weekend, as they welcome the Ryerson Rams to the Burridge Gym on Feb. 3. While the Rams have struggled this season and find themselves with only three wins to their name, the Torontonian outfit caused significant waves throughout the OUA with an upset victory over the Marauders on Nov. 4.

Sanders made no bones about the fact that the upcoming tilt against the Rams is viewed by he and his teammates as a chance for much-needed revenge. In addition, a dominant win would send a powerful message of McMaster’s improvement as a unit.

“It’s important for us to stick a message out there,” said the setter. “We obviously didn’t play our game when we were at Ryerson and dropped that game. I think it’s very important for us to have a good week in practice, and we’ll come out blazing and do what we have to do.”

McMaster will have its chance to do just that on Feb. 3, as the Marauders celebrate Senior Night in honour of their graduating players. The contest with the Rams will follow this ceremony, and is scheduled to get underway at 8 p.m.

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