By: Ryan Tse
It was not always clear for Bennett Swan that he could reach the heights he did this year as an individual and as part of McMaster’s men’s volleyball team.
The 6’7” middle from Oakville professed that he was not the best volleyball player growing up in elementary school, though he was aided by favourable genetics.
“I was really bad when I started — but I was tall, so that was a good place to start,” Swan said.
Swan has come a long way since then, being named to the Ontario University Athletics All-Rookie Team and playing a big role in helping McMaster earn its sixth-straight OUA Championship.
The presence of McMaster volleyball loomed large in Swan’s life even before he arrived at the school. Raised just a short ride from Hamilton, he had a chance to attend McMaster volleyball camps starting in Grade 6. At these camps, Swan met players and coaches who are now his peers and mentors at McMaster. It was there that he realized he wanted to pursue volleyball at the club level and beyond.
Before making the decision to focus on volleyball, Swan was involved in several sports, from lacrosse and soccer to hockey and basketball. In particular, Swan loved basketball — but he soon found it was no match for the team-oriented passing game of volleyball that he fell in love with.
“The biggest thing was that volleyball was so much more of a team sport than the other sports I played before,” Swan said. “The thing that’s so fun and interesting about volleyball is that you only get, at most, two touches [per person] every time it comes over to your side. You really cannot do anything by yourself. There’s so many moving parts and, as a middle, my position really relies on good passing and good setting for me to have an impact on offense, so I feel that the most.”
After excelling at club volleyball, Swan was recruited to play for the Marauders this year. Swan said it was an easy decision to join McMaster’s volleyball program, not just because of its historical success but also for the chance to play alongside older players he had admired since he was younger.
“It’s funny — a lot of my teammates now were players that I looked up to growing up as like the volleyball legends, especially people like Andrew [Richards] and BK [Brandon Koppers],” Swan said. “I always watched them play, and it was always like, ‘At what point do I become a player that’s competing with these guys?’”
“Growing up, it always seemed like such a big gap between university and where I was at. The first couple weeks, or even months, of being on the team was a bit surreal.”
Swan may have been nervous at first upon joining the team, but that passed quickly. He cites the strong leadership of the veterans as a major factor in helping him feel at ease.
“I would give a lot of credit to the leaders on our team, particularly Andrew Richards, BK, Connor [Santoni] and Pav” [Pavel Jedrzejewski],” Swan said. “They’ve really gone out of their way to make sure that we’ve all felt comfortable.”
Another important part of Swan’s successful transition to the Mac team is the presence of his childhood friend, Liam Irwin, as a fellow rookie on the squad.
“Liam Irwin was my best friend playing club volleyball — best friend my whole life,” Swan explained. “So it was kind of an easy transition coming in because we could just be ourselves around each other and that luckily morphed into the group.”
Beyond that, Swan’s first year was just about competing hard every day for playing time, something that’s ensured with the depth of talent on this team.
“The idea is that everyone has the same opportunity to play and be a starter and to earn their stripes,” Swan said. “Coming in, I definitely expected there to be more of a distance between the rookies and the vets, but there’s really no difference at all and I think that has to do with the positive rivalry as well.”
Throughout the year, Swan has improved immensely and gained the trust of his coach, earning more playing time than Swan expected. He was just one of seven players on the team (and the only freshman) to play in sixteen regular season matches.
Of course, Swan’s also played a key role in many big playoff games for McMaster this year, matches filled with intense situations fraught with pressure. In learning how to deal with the stress of big games and the challenge of balancing work with volleyball, Swan credits weekly meetings with assistant coach Ian Eibbitt.
Maintaining an even-keeled composure on the court has been key to Swan’s success. His mental stability is something that he’s worked on and picked up from the team culture this year as well.
“I would say I’m stable, but I can be loud and fiery when I want to,” said Swan. “A big thing about myself and the rest of our team is that we’re really good at managing our emotion throughout the game. I don’t know if I’ve always been like that, but I’ve picked that up a lot this year from the way everyone else carries themselves.”
Off the court, Swan maintains an easygoing personality, not afraid to infuse humour into any situation.
“I would say that I am a good people person,” Swan said. “I bring a good sense of humour to the locker room and to the team. There’s a way to incorporate good humour all the time that will always lighten the mood. Nothing you do you should take too seriously that you’re afraid to laugh.”
When asked how he has improved over the season, Swan pointed to his serving and how he’s worked on the intricate details of his blocking technique. It has also been tough at times to adapt to the speed of the university game.
“When you first come in, there are a lot of things to learn. It feels like you’re given forty things to learn in forty seconds,” Swan said. “For that, one of the biggest things that was difficult for me to get over was the speed of the game. Honestly, it just comes down to [Coach] Dave telling me, ‘You’re going to do great. You just have to catch up and catching up will take some time.’ It’s understanding that you’re not going to figure everything out in one day.”
Looking forward, Swan’s focused on getting stronger this year to help McMaster become even stronger next year.
“I would say that mentally, I understand the game of volleyball,” Swan said. “I think I’ve learned that stuff a lot, so now it’s just about putting on pounds and getting stronger so that I can maintain what I’m doing for a long time.”
McMaster’s long tradition of success can be attributed to many factors, but at the core is the constant influx of talented young players stepping up to take on bigger roles. Bennett Swan is the latest and one of the brightest examples of this pattern. He is ready to elevate his game to even further heights, and it’s a good bet you will be hearing much more from him next year.