Photos by Kyle West
By: Coby Zucker
Coming into the Ontario University Athletics playoffs as the fourth-ranked team in Canada puts a target on your back. Add to that a record-breaking six-year stretch where McMaster has taken home the Forsyth Cup for first place in the OUA playoffs, and you now know which team is the one to beat.
And yet, pressure is nothing new for head coach Dave Preston who has been leading the team since 2002.
“The way our program and the way I deal with [pressure] is that I don’t think that there’s anybody outside of our team room that expects more out of our program than us,” said coach Preston. “So I think when teams start to feel pressure, it’s because the external expectations become greater than what the internal expectations can handle. There isn’t anybody who expects more out of us than us. So pressure is not an issue.”
Playing on such a decorated team, it is safe to assume the Marauders have lofty expectations for themselves with none loftier than those of fifth-year hitter Andrew Richards, who will be playing in his fifth and final OUA playoffs this season. Richards welcomes the competition and the opportunity to leave it all on the floor.
“I definitely know teams want to beat us with our history of having the success that we’ve had in Ontario,” said Richards. “I’m sure it would be a sweet feeling for someone to try and knock us off but that motivates us even more to know that any time we play a team they’re going to bring the best they have and they’re going to be motivated to take us down. So it’s something that we welcome almost. We want other teams to play their best, which in turn will make us play our best.”
One game into their playoff run, the Marauders’ opponents’ bests have not been good enough. The York University Lions certainly looked motivated this past Saturday coming into Burridge Gym taking the first set 25-27, but their momentum was quickly stifled.
The Marauders proceeded to take the next three sets (25-23, 25-15, 25-19) in a mirror of their last meeting with the Lions in the regular season. Next, it is onto Kingston to face the University of Windsor Lancers for the semi-finals on March 8.
— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) March 3, 2019
For the first time in seven years, McMaster will not be hosting the OUA Final Four due to formatting changes that no longer guarantee home court for the overall highest-seeded team. Continuing their seven-year streak will potentially require they face off in the finals against the Queen’s University Gaels, the only team against whom the Marauders have a losing record in the regular season, in Queen’s own gym.
“We’ve kind of adapted to this road warrior mentality where we’ll go into anyone’s gym and do our thing,” said Richards. “We sort of feel comfort in the sense of being uncomfortable, if that make sense? We want to sleep in hotels, we want to play in different gyms, we want to be in front of other fans. It’s just the kind of identity our team’s going to take on here in the playoffs.”
It remains to be seen how the Marauders will adapt to this wrinkle in their era of dominance. They certainly still have all the tools they need to succeed, including seasoned players, a veteran coach and an all-star-calibre player in Richards who, along with fellow fifth-years Connor Santoni and Jeffrey Driediger, is looking to put his final stamp on a McMaster legacy. The Marauders themselves are not lacking in confidence.
“I love the way our guys are playing right now,” said coach Preston. “I love our style. I think we probably have another level or two left in us to play at. But the way our guys play? The style we play? The passion that we play with? It’s everything a coach could ask for.”
Competition remains tough as the Marauders head into their final weekend of the OUA post-season, with the Lancers, the Gaels and the University of Toronto Varsity Blues all looking to displace the reigning champions. It all goes down March 8 and 9 in Kingston.