Perfection is tough; the longer a team goes without losing, the less victories feel like achievements and the more they feel like expectations.
With a perfect 17-0 Ontario University Athletics regular season, no one knows the weight of expectations better than the McMaster men’s volleyball team. Dropping only five sets over the course of the season, Mac has had another dominant year on the court, earning a no. 2 U Sports national ranking and the only Ontario team to crack the top ten.
So with the OUA playoffs kicking off in March, it is not surprising that the Mac men are being labelled as the early favorites. Not only are they predicted to play for their fifth straight OUA championship, fans are already holding out hope for another shot at U Sports glory.
Coming off a heartbreaking loss in the national championship final at home last season, you might assume the players cannot help but look ahead either, but head coach Dave Preston insists they are taking it one step at a time.
“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is or who we are playing,” said Preston. “We are training at this level to compete every game… and that’s how we [approach it], and that’s how we are going to give ourselves that chance.”
The first step to punching their U Sports ticket is a quarterfinal matchup against Queen’s, which finished with a 10-8 record in conference play, struggling late in the season with losses against York and Nipissing. Their last matchup with McMaster was a late season sweep that saw Mac take all three sets by a margin of nine points or more. Fifth-year middle Jayson McCarthy lead the way with 12 of Mac’s 38 kills on the night, and will look to kick off his OUA run in a similar fashion.
Regardless of who advances on the other side of the bracket, Mac will have a target on their back as the only undefeated team in the league.
Heavily favored heading into the match, the Mac men may also look to fine tune their offense before potentially matching up with other OUA contenders such as Guelph or York. From a fan’s perspective, early playoff games may seem like trivial preparation for tougher competition, although coach Preston insists it is not their opponent that determines team performance.
“One of the things we really try to focus on is making sure our Mondays to Thursdays are extremely productive,” said Preston. “I don’t know how other teams in other conferences, play and train and perform… what I do know is that we focus on our training during the week. We work really hard…and where we make our gains is in our own practice gyms. That is how we have to focus on it.”
Regardless of who advances on the other side of the bracket, Mac will have a target on their back as the only undefeated team in the league. Their opponents have the benefit of playing with nothing to lose, and staying focused to avoid any upsets will be critical.
Maintaining perfection is tough, there is no question about it. It challenges the player’s mentality and ability to perform under pressure. But it is also tough to beat, something the Marauders will look to prove in the coming weeks.