Confidence has been in short supply for the Marauders this season. But after two convincing home victories on Jan. 13 and 14, the Maroon and Grey have given themselves a reason to believe.
Looking to erase a four-game losing streak that stretched back into 2011, McMaster swept aside the RMC Paladins in straight sets before dealing a four-set defeat to the visiting Queen’s Gaels on Jan. 14. The results moved the Marauders’ conference record to 5-6 on the season, and represent a much-needed change of fortunes for the squad.
Coach Tim Louks sees an encouraging trend emerging among his players, who he believes have found the motivation and the confidence necessary to raise their level of play even further.
“The convincing part three games in is that they’re feeling good about it,” said the coach of his charges. “They’re set on raising the standard from where we are now, as opposed to the place we were in before the break.”
One of the most noticeable aspects of the Marauders’ newfound success is their sudden prowess on the block. In their Saturday night victory over the visitors from Queen’s, McMaster tallied six solo stuffs and 16 block-assists while the Gaels notched only two of each.
Louks indicates that his team’s ferocious frontcourt defence can be traced to their ever-increasing defensive awareness and physical strength.
“I don’t know if it comes down to any one thing, but there certainly are factors that are contributing,” said the coach of his team’s blocking efforts. “Maybe the one that leads the way is the understanding of offences and of attacking actions. The players are making better decisions, their core is getting stronger and the timing is a little better and faster so that the angle is better.
“Understanding where to be and when based on information has improved the most. Maybe we’ve turned the corner on a few things.”
Beyond the team’s awareness in the frontcourt, Louks believes that his players have made vast improvements in their ability to read and respond in all aspects of the game. When those responses do deviate from the squad’s established system, players are quick to adjust and return to the stated game plan.
“It always comes back to situational analysis,” said Louks. “The discussion that is being had around those situations is not as prolonged as it has been in the past. Given that situation occurring again, they’re rectifying the choice and reinforcing the value of making that choice.
“The coach’s ability is to interpret the information and put the kids in a situation where you can empower them to try to be successful. That’s it. You have no solid, irrefutable answers to anything. So they have to build a level of confidence in the action that creates a possibility of success. It’s a learned part of the sport.”
Decision-making has been a particular area of improvement for McMaster’s outside players, who often struggled in the face of opposition defences in the Marauders’ first semester efforts. The ability to identify the defensive challenge in front of them allows these players to adjust their attacking approach.
“Lauren [Mastroluisi] is learning to be patient on balls that aren’t allowing her to swing freely and to be selective,” said Louks of his rookie winger. “I think we saw some great choices and very few poor ones, which in the first half was the reverse.
“Kailee [Stock] is a third-year kid, but it’s the same set of rules. She’s strong, and I think we’re doing some things to complement her. She, as a part of that solution, is making some good choices that are allowing her to be patient on the ball.”
Looking to push on and crest the .500 mark, the Marauders are helped by the fact that their roster is healthier than ever, and that the team’s sizeable rookie class is beginning to become accustomed to the rigours of the CIS game.
“We’re waiting on [Meghan] Jamieson a little bit to see what the situation is like with her shoulder, but overall, we’re probably in as good of a spot physically as we’ve been all year,” said Louks. “The young kids are buying in and we’re trying to keep them on track.”
The Marauders look to continue their winning ways this coming weekend as they welcome the Waterloo Warriors and Guelph Gryphons to the Burridge Gym on Jan. 20 and 21.
While Waterloo notched a fairly routine four-set win over McMaster earlier this season, Louks believes that both teams have undergone considerable transformations in the meantime.