Fraser Caldwell

Sports Editor

Very little looks familiar when one watches this year’s edition of the Marauders compete, and that newness extends from the team sheet to the style of play on offer.

After the 2010-11 season saw several influential members of the McMaster squad complete their eligibility and conclude their varsity careers, this season’s team is flush with new faces. In a field of 15 players donning the Maroon and Grey for this campaign, five are rookies and only two have reached their fourth year of varsity competition.

But beyond the names on the depth chart, the McMaster squad has undergone massive change on the volleyball court, as coach Tim Louks has made radical alterations to the formations and tactics employed by his charges.

The result thus far in the Marauders’ exhibition schedule has been a Jekyll and Hyde experience, as the team works to institute a new system in a competitive environment.

Most recently, this trend manifested itself at McMaster’s annual Thanksgiving tournament, in which the hosts managed a bronze-medal finish.

After an easy straight-sets victory in their opening quarterfinal against the Royal Military College, the Marauders were convincingly beaten in the subsequent round by the Brock Badgers before bouncing back to claim the tournament’s bronze medal with a four-set win over the Ryerson Rams on Oct. 8.

Speaking in the wake of that result, coach Tim Louks acknowledged that his squad is experiencing the sort of growing pains one would expect from a team chalked full of rookie players and experimenting with new systemic options.

However, while much of the Marauders’ weekend efforts left something to be desired, Louks did take the time to praise the play of setter Amanda Weldon, who demonstrated her offensive flair as McMaster debuted a two-setter formation.

“We’re seeing more different than not, and we’re seeing a better Amanda Weldon,” commented the coach. “We’re not quite ready to be flipping back and forth between systems, but we’ll keep working on it to allow it to have some influence.

“Because Amanda is too good an attacker not to be doing that. She gets off the floor very well and she’s pretty violent.”

For Louks, the growth and adaptation process will be a much easier one when his roster becomes healthier, as several players have been absent from the Marauder setup throughout the preseason. Fortunately, a few such performers are closing in on reentry to the lineup as the new campaign approaches.

“It’ll be nice to get a few of these kids off the shelf,” said Louks of his red-shirted players. “[Patricia] Raso was cleared today [Oct. 11] with her tonsil issue, and [Meghan] Jamieson is probably a week away from ready after her hip problem.

“Emily Dennis is also close. We may have two of them back by the match on the weekend [Oct. 15].”

Veteran hitter Lauren Skelly, meanwhile, remains on the bench as she rehabilitates an abdominal tear. She is expected to return to the lineup within the next two weeks.

While the team works to acclimatize themselves to the demands of the new season, the Marauders’ prized off-season recruit Lauren Mastroluisi appears ready to meet the test of OUA volleyball.

The Ancaster native performed well as a consistent starter over the Thanksgiving weekend, and Louks indicates that she has adapted quickly to her new varsity surroundings.

“She fits very well already,” the coach said of his rookie’s role in the lineup. “She’s definitely going to be a great addition, and she’s already a multiple-match starter. We’ll have to work through the reps that we need to get her to settle her in a little better.

“Because there are some technical things that she’s doing that just won’t work with the pace of the game at this level.”

One area in which Mastroluisi and her teammates will need to adjust is in their defensive game, where the effects of a recent systemic overhaul were painfully obvious at times throughout McMaster’s home tournament.

However, Louks indicated his belief that results on the defensive end would improve as his players become more comfortable with their tactical expectations.

“We’ve shaped the defence differently and only introduced it a week ago, and played in that system for the first time over the weekend,” said the Marauder bench boss. “So there were a few acclimatization issues that were pretty shocking. Those are just system challenges.

“But what I did like was that in certain circumstances, when we were making touches, we were doing a very good job with them. I think the system was the issue more so than the personnel.

“So if we can get used to the system and run it at a higher speed, which we will, then I think it’s a better style of play for us.”

Louks hopes that his squad’s final pre-season tilt on Oct. 15 will showcase further improvement on their part, and a greater grasp of the overhauled tactics that he looks to feature this season.  That contest comes against the Toronto Varsity Blues, and will get underway at 1 p.m. at the Burridge Gym.

 

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