With the OUA Championships looming, it appears that the competition is wary of the Marauders.
For the past few weeks, McMaster has engaged in dual meets – short, one day-long events with a small field – and has come up against competition with the most serious of mindsets. The upper echelon squads of Toronto and Ottawa were sporting their $500 racing suits and were fully shaved in preparation.
In the opinion of the Marauders’ sophomore swimmer Cory Helie-Masters, such preparations hint at a shared fear on the part of the competition, a fear of their inability to overcome the athletes of the Maroon and Grey.
“They took more time to be physically prepared for it,” said Helie-Masters of McMaster’s opponents. “They took days off of training, shaved down and put on their $500 racing suits. We saw it as a sign that they needed to do these things because they didn’t believe that they had a chance of beating us.
“We show up having done five hours of training the day before. Although we’d taken the time to be mentally prepared, we haven’t taken the rest because we’re focused on the OUA Championships and the CIS event.”
For McMaster’s swimmers, the dual meets of the past few weeks function primarily as practice runs. They allow athletes to perfect the racing technique necessary to succeed at the more meaningful events that conclude the season.
“There are a number of meet-to-meet goals, but these races are chances to practice everything that you need to do while you’re fully rested,” said Helie-Masters. “It’s a chance to find out if you’re doing everything properly. It allows you to check and to get a coach’s feedback instead of waiting until the OUAs and finding out too late that you’re doing something wrong.”
For the Marauders’ leading male swimmer Cameron Bailey, the dual events are simply steps on a season-long progression that points inevitably to the OUA Championships.
“It’s basically a matter of progression,” said Bailey of the events’ value. “What we try to focus on in these dual meets is using them as dress rehearsals of sorts. We go into them tired from hard training, so they’re a chance for us to race tired which we will be doing come OUAs.
“We’ll have to perform while we’re tired, so that’s what we practice in these races.”
A vital part of that progression to the conference championships came in the form of the Marauders’ holiday training camp in Jamaica, an intensive period of training that saw the Maroon and Grey spend five hours in the pool each day.
“The training effects of Jamaica have been very apparent,” said Helie-Masters. “One of the best things was that we were completely taken away from every sort of distraction and the coach was able to say, ‘We’re going to swim five hours a day, every day, and you’re going to like it.’
“The training effect has been seen and been presenting itself in a lot of races. When we came back, we didn’t slow down, even though we don’t have as much access to pool time here as we did there.”
With the conference championships only two weeks away, the Marauders are each pursuing their own goals in order to properly peak at the most important stage of the season.
Bailey explains that his own path is simply one of continued compliance with the training schedule outlined for him by coach Andrew Cole. He is confident enough in his coach’s planning to believe that adherence to the schedule will suffice to put him in the position to mount the podium at year’s end.
“My own goal is to follow the program,” Bailey said simply. “Andrew has spent hours creating individual programs for people, so what I have to do at this point is follow what he has for me. If I do that, I know I’ll succeed. I’ve done everything leading up to it and it’s now just the finer details that I have to follow.”
For his part, Helie-Masters looks forward to the next few weeks as an opportunity to sort out the details of his life outside of the pool that will otherwise affect his ability to perform.
“I’m looking to finally catch up on some sleep,” said the sophomore with a wry chuckle. “Every Tuesday and Thursday we’re at the pool by 6:30 am. We’ve had meets every single weekend, which really eliminates the idea of resting on the weekend.
“So I’m looking to fully rein in my studies, catch up on the schoolwork and be in bed by 9 o’clock every single night. If I can do that, when we start our taper I’ll be feeling good and moving really fast.”
The preparedness is essential, particularly in a season ripe with opportunity, with the Marauders eagerly eying the top two positions in the province. Both Bailey and Helie-Masters are confident that McMaster can overcome opposition from teams such as Western, Guelph, and Ottawa to claim team silver on the men’s side.
“Toronto will be a bit harder for us to overcome, but I think that we have a great chance this year of coming second in the OUA,” said Bailey. “The traditional second would be Western. Guelph is there and the Ottawa men’s team is quite good. But so are we.”