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Banner dreams will have to wait another year for McMaster.
At the OUA Final Four at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre last weekend, the Marauders got a tough semi-final draw getting matched up against Toronto — the best team in the OUA and the No. 2 team in the nation.
McMaster pushed the Varsity Blues further than any OUA team had all year. Mac came out of the gates firing and dictated the match early on. The Marauders were playing well and looking energized while the normally unshakable Varsity Blues looked out of sorts.
McMaster’s first set win was the first time Toronto trailed since Oct. 31. Toronto took the second and third sets handily before Mac responded late in the fourth set with a comeback, but Toronto muffled McMaster’s furious comeback with a 30-28 fourth set win. Just a week removed from their unforgettable 36-34 second set win over Windsor, McMaster almost pulled off another wild set win.
The comeback wasn’t in the cards this time around.
Just two points away from sending Toronto to their first fifth set of the year, McMaster fell in four. The 3-1 match score doesn’t display the incredible fight the girls showed. They started the match on a good note, but Toronto just outworked them to the end. In fact, that’s what Toronto did to every team this year. That’s why they’re 21-0 entering CIS Nationals.
Head Coach Tim Louks had nothing but praise for the Varsity Blues, who ended up capturing their second consecutive conference title.
“Toronto was great, but Toronto has been great all year long,” said Louks. “We weren’t good enough. That’s as good a team as I’ve seen in a long time.”
Third-year libero Carly Heath confesses that Toronto wasn’t themselves at the start.
“They made an abnormal amount of unforced errors in that first set. We just took what they gave us. We stayed consistent,” said Heath. “They’re very efficient, very smart, and play very clean volleyball and they did not play that way in the first set.”
The rest of the match presented a stark contrast with Toronto taking the next three sets. and ultimately, the match.
“They were a completely different team in those sets,” Heath said.
Heath played a crucial role in keeping the Marauders afloat after Toronto seemingly threw the kitchen sink at the Marauders defense. Heath racked up an amazing 25 digs and was locked in defensively all match long. Whenever it seemed like Toronto had put a ball out of reach, Heath’s lightning quick agility and polished technique would keep the rally alive. The libero looked like the glue that held the Marauders together through the Varsity Blues’ onslaught.
She won player of the match because of her performance.
“I have a job and I know what I need to do to do it. We switched our whole defensive scheme for this match. Defense is what I do,” said Heath. “I knew Toronto was a strong hitting team. I knew that I would have a big job to do and I was excited to do it.”
Heath finished the weekend with 49 digs over two matches.
Coach Louks pointed out a trend in his libero’s gameplay.
“In the biggest matches of the year, Carly usually answers the bell,” said Louks. “She always does for the big ones.”
“It was unreal. It was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve been in. The energy in the gym was unbelievable. All of us were just feeding off adrenaline,” said Heath. “It was a lot of fun. Everyone was playing 110 percent and it honestly just didn’t work out in our favor.”
The following night, McMaster played rival Western for OUA bronze. They controlled most of the match until failing to finish the job in the fifth set. McMaster finished fourth in the OUA.
“There’s only one thing you can do in OUA women’s volleyball to go to nationals: win the conference title. We took our shot in the semis. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get more out of a couple people, but I was pleased that others stepped in and did the job,” said Louks.
McMaster improved this season finishing 17-5 overall and making an OUA Final Four appearance. They were a set away from potentially upsetting the No. 2 team in the country. Last year they finished 15-5 and lost at home in an OUA quarterfinal. They took it a step further this year and hopefully that trend continues.
“I’m very pleased with these girls. Great year,” said Louks.
“It’s unfortunate how everything panned out results-wise, but I think we definitely improved as a team and we’re going to keep improving,” said Heath.
McMaster is also saying goodbye to three key graduating cornerstones in Mira Krunic, Taylor Brisebois and Lauren Mastroluisi.
Heath admits it’ll be different without this core group of girls.
“Those girls have had a huge, huge impact on and off the court. I don’t know the team without those girls. I live with them. I see them everyday,” Heath said. “It’s going to be really, really weird to see them go.”
“Those girls have made a good contribution to the program. They’ve represented themselves and their school well,” Louks said. “Those are the kinds of players and people we want to have here. It’s a good legacy.”
Photo Credit: Jon White/ Photo Editor