The results didn’t fall their way, but for the youthful Marauder contingent there was much to be learned from their experience at the CIS Championships.
Hosted at McMaster’s Burridge Gym from Mar. 2-4, the tournament brought the top women’s volleyball teams in Canada to Hamilton and saw the Maroon and Grey come face-to-face with fierce out-of-conference opposition.
While they dropped both of their contests over the course of the weekend – losing a four-set decision to the no. 1 ranked Alberta Pandas on Mar. 2 before succumbing to the Saint Mary’s Huskies in five the next afternoon – the Marauders raised their fair share of eyebrows with their performances.
Expected by many observers to be easily dismissed by the competition on the national stage, the Maroon and Grey posed a stern test for the Pandas and should likely have polished off the Huskies after building a two-set advantage.
For their part, the Marauders expressed their satisfaction with the effort put forward at the CIS tournament, which silenced those who doubted McMaster’s credibility in the lead-up to the event.
“I was really happy with it [McMaster’s performance], because I thought that it showed that we could play with the top teams at an event like the nationals,” said rookie middle Taylor Brisebois.
Fellow first-year hitter Lauren Mastroluisi argued that the team’s showing augured well for the Marauders’ future, adding, “Knowing that we came in as the underdogs and proved so much against Alberta, we have a chance to compete next year.”
McMaster’s large rookie class had the most to learn at the national event, and both Mastroluisi and Brisebois indicated that they had taken away important lessons from the challenge of competition against Canada’s best.
Mastroluisi argued that the greatest benefit of the tournament was done to the Marauders’ mentality, teaching the players that setbacks are inevitable against top-tier teams.
“You definitely take something away from it,” said the outside hitter of the event. “Having the opportunity to play at the CIS tournament is something that doesn’t come around very often. The opportunity to play against the best teams in the country really teaches you how to be patient with yourself.
“You know that you’re going to get blocked and that there are going to be big kills against you. But you have to push through that and play to the best of your ability. You can’t focus on [your opponent], you have to focus on yourself.”
Brisebois emphasized the team-building element of competing at such a high level, where building an ever-stronger understanding with teammates becomes a necessity.
“I think we learned a lot as a team about how to play well together,” said the rookie middle hitter. “We’ve done that kind of thing before, but I thought that we were really cheering each other on and celebrating the little things. So I think that really helped us play as a whole.”
That added chemistry should be transferable for a Marauder team that may well return all of its athletes next season. With the squad’s two seniors Meagan Nederveen and Shannon McRobert both contemplating a fifth year, an already promising lineup could be given another full year to grow together.
McMaster’s rookie standouts both expressed their excitement at the prospect of competing alongside an intact Marauder lineup next season, and have high hopes for what that squad can achieve given what it has already accomplished.
“It’s definitely going to help a lot,” said Mastroluisi of the team’s lack of turnover. “We have a great opportunity to show people that we’ve finally come together and I honestly think we have a great chance to win next year.
“Our chemistry improved so much throughout the year,” added Brisebois. “We had a little bit of a rocky start but at the end it was amazing how far we had come, and so I see really great things on the horizon for next year.”
That next season will see the Marauder rookies return as sophomores, a move that brings with it a new level of responsibility and expectation. For her part, Mastroluisi is confident that she and her fellow first-years have the proper attitude to continue to excel both on court and in the classroom.
“I think we’re pretty goal-oriented as a group,” said the rookie outside. “So if we set out a goal for ourselves then we’re going to achieve it whether it’s for school or for volleyball.”
Brisebois indicated that growing into the sophomore role would entail assuming a mentorship role for the Marauders’ fresh crop of rookie players, much like the role that her teammates have played for her this season.
“If we ever need help with something we can always go to someone on the team,” said the middle hitter. “We’ll have new rookies next year and now having been rookies ourselves we know what it’ll be like and we can go to them and help them through it.”
With a long offseason looming in the wake of the national championship tournament, the Marauders have the opportunity to work on their respective games in the absence of competition. Mastroluisi signals that her priority and that of her teammates will be on all-around fitness as they look to become stronger and more capable in the layoff period.
“I think that over the summer we’re really going to work on our fitness to become stronger hitters and jump higher,” said the first-year outside. “Rather than anything specific to volleyball, it’s going to come down to general fitness.”
Brisebois however has a very specific goal in mind for her offseason training. She believes that she must become quicker if she is to advance as a player and plans to work to speed up her game.
“For me it’s about speed,” said the middle hitter. “I found myself a bit slow coming out to block or to hit in transition. So I’m going to work on my speed over the summer and hopefully that improves.”
The Marauders now have the chance to work toward such improvements, and look to achieve ever-greater things as they move forward together.