With the OUA regular season set to kick-off in under two weeks, the McMaster women’s volleyball team is still finding themselves.
Injuries, unexpected departures, graduations and incoming rookies have put the reigning OUA champions into a period of change to start the year. Typically, a team with meaningful games rapidly approaching would be nervous. Head coach Tim Louks is confident and eager to get the season underway, looking to build towards another championship run.
“I think we have same typo of athletes in the house that we did last year,” said Louks. “But because we’re new, those connections aren’t there yet. That is what we’re trying to work our way through.”
McMaster is young, with only one fifth year and three fourth years while all other players fall below, meaning that the team is inconsistent so far, according to Louks.
The team wants to play at the same tempo offensively as they did last year, but have hit roadblocks when trying to accomplish that for a variety of reasons.
For one, Mac’s setters are new. Amanda Weldon and Kayla Ng split duties at the setting position last year, but both have graduated and left the team without a maestro.
Lauren Carter, a fifth-year occupational therapist student, is carrying the setting load with second-year Caitlin Genovy.
“We’re not in a familiarization stage right now, we’re in an accumulation of information. The setters and hitters are trying to work within a set of parameters to build those rhythms and do that while on the run,” said Louks.
Mac has a ways to go, including the shoring up of transition play. Louks says that will come together over time, and will be accelerated when key players return from injury.
Fourth-year Lauren Mastroluisi had an allergic reaction before the Ottawa tournament (where McMaster won the consolation round), libero Carly Heath has an elbow injury and another handful of players are battling lingering injuries.
None of the injuries seem to be long term, but they do hamper the growth of the team.
“The unfortunate part is we are going into Thanksgiving getting ready for our season opener against Western, and we don’t have the players that I think will have an impact against them. It’s kind of a funky scenario,” said Louks.
Regardless of the setbacks, the coaching staff is excited with the growth of other pieces and what they can bring to the team dynamic.
Mac experimented with players in different positions throughout preseason and was impressed with the results. Louks says the team played Ottawa tough, a team that will be in the hunt for an OUA championship.
But in recent years, the women’s program has been labelled as getting off to slow starts, with this paper being perpetuating that label. Louks explains that the team does not intentionally lag out of the gate.
“We’re trying to go forward. Do we have enough right away to have a performance outcome against Western that is in our favour? I’d hope so. I’d like to have these nicks and bruises cleaned up, but when they are standing or riding a bike, the players aren’t getting that connection,” said Louks.
McMaster will be a team in contention for the championship again, but they may round into their peak form as the season goes on.
The team has an abundance of questions marks with the performances they will get from certain positions, but the ceiling is high across the board.
Making a return to the CIS national championship tournament is the goal – something that not many OUA programs can say they have accomplished in the past decade.
But this year more than most, Mac’s journey and growth will be the most intriguing part of the season, not the wins and losses.