Their level of play was devastatingly high at times, and yet the Marauders came away from their Jan. 6 battle with the Brock Badgers empty handed.
Over the course of five hard fought sets in St. Catherines, the visitors from McMaster demonstrated marked improvement from the brand of volleyball that had seen them drop three consecutive contests to conclude the first semester.
Gone were many of the mid-match errors, miscommunications and mismatches that had seen the Marauders convincingly beaten by the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Queen’s Gaels.
Also absent was the one-way offensive traffic that had allowed OUA rivals to hone in on Marauder attackers in the opening half of the season.
Indeed, it was the visitors who proved more adept on the block at the Davis Gym, as the Marauders stockpiled nine solo stuffs and 18 block assists in the Friday night loss.
Offensive output from McMaster’s wing players was another area of noticeable improvement on Jan. 6, as three Marauder wing players reached double-digits in points (Kailee Stock, Mira Krunic and Lauren Mastroluisi).
In the end though, the visitors lacked the necessary execution in the clutch to seal the fifth set of the Friday contest and grab two needed points against a strong Badger side.
While the results remain lacking to this point, McMaster’s veteran middle hitter and co-captain Shannon McRobert believes that her team’s improved play will bear fruit in the near future.
“I think it was a 100 percent improvement,” said McRobert of the Marauders’ Jan. 6 effort. “I definitely have to say that we worked really hard over the Christmas break and there’s a huge difference in the way we played.
“Obviously the game didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but I feel like you could see the difference and that it bodes well for us in the second half.”
According to McRobert, much of the Marauders’ improved play in their return to competitive action can be traced to the team’s holiday excursion to Florida.
While they competed at the Innisbrook College/University Invitational in St. Petersburg and came away with bronze medals, the team’s off-court activities were arguably of equal if not greater importance for a group that has struggled to effectively assimilate a hefty rookie class.
“I think in this case, with this team, [the trip] has helped us immensely,” said McRobert. “I feel so much closer with a lot of the girls that are younger and I know that it’s really going to help us. Of course there was a lot of volleyball and we worked our butts off, but there’s the bonding time too that’s so important.
“Just getting to be with the team without any outside distractions really helps. When we come back here, we bring that experience back with us.”
The hope on the part of the Marauders is that the cohesiveness that such team-building activities foster will aid them in their efforts to find consistency on the floor. Although it was hardly a perfect first attempt, McRobert believes that the Jan. 6 result showed a McMaster team beginning to find stability.
“I feel like consistency sometimes has to come from older players, which we don’t have a lot of,” said the fourth-year middle hitter. “But in this case, I think it can come from gelling together as a team. It’s taken us a while to get together, but we’re getting there now and you can see the runs of play that we’ve been able to put together.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we can build on those runs and improve our overall performance.”
It would be easy for the Marauders to be disheartened by their struggles on the scoreboard to this point in the OUA season. However, McRobert indicates that the attitude among the players remains positive, and has been rejuvenated by the events of the Christmas break.
“There is a bit of frustration involved,” said the veteran of her team’s losing ways. “But at the same time, you look to your teammates for support and they really help you out. After Christmas training it really feels like a new start. I feel like everyone is more motivated and more determined to win.
“It’s a very different feeling around the team and it’s exciting.”
The maroon and grey’s next weekend of work presents an opportunity for redemption on home soil, as the Marauders will welcome the RMC Paladins and the Queen’s Gaels to the Burridge Gym on Jan. 13 and 14.
For McRobert and her teammates, the familiar confines of the home floor bring added confidence to the prospect of avenging two November defeats.
“I think home court is always something of an advantage,” said McRobert. “Personally, I think this team loves to be at home and always has. I’ve been here for four years and I think we’ve always done much better at home than we’ve done away.
“We have chemistry, a new way of playing and I’m looking forward to playing at home against teams we can get some revenge against. Hopefully it can turn out in our favour this time.”
The McMaster faithful will share that hope as the Marauders host the Kingston outfits as part of Marauder weekend. The Maroon and Grey clash with RMC is slated to get underway at 6 p.m. on Jan. 13, while the Queen’s contest will tip off at the same time the next night.