By: Griffin Marsh
In a needed bounce back performance, the McMaster men’s volleyball team pushed aside the low-ranked Trent University Excalibur to close out the 2017-2018 regular season.
Following a rare loss to the Western Mustangs on Feb. 17, the Marauders returned to form in Burridge Gym for their regular season finale and wrapped up the match in three commanding sets.
The game was a complete team performance with the hitters completing at an excellent efficiency of .443, which included 36 kills and only nine hitting errors.
Individually, the game was led by Marauders Craig Ireland and Andrew Richards who contributed seven kills and 8.5 points, respectively.
Trent presented a negative hitting efficiency at -.167 in an error prone performance for the Excalibur.
With this victory, McMaster has locked up top spot in the Ontario University Athletics’ West division, and hosting rights throughout the playoffs and into the 2018 U Sports National Championships.
Seeing as McMaster is hosting the National Championships this coming March, Hamilton Volleyball fans will be happy to know that not a single Marauder game will be played away from the Burridge Gym.
This string of playoff games begins on Saturday, March 3, as the Nipissing University Lakers, ranked third in the OUA East division, visit for an OUA Quarterfinal Matchup.
Throughout the season, head coach Dave Preston has stressed this is exactly where the Marauders wanted to be. The goal has been from the beginning to control as much home court advantage as possible through the playoffs, a destiny that was sealed with the Trent victory.
The reality is that that original goal for this point in the season may not have come as easy as some followers of McMaster volleyball may have expected.
The Marauders finished this season with a record of 15-2, matching their loss total from the previous two seasons combined.
This season also started with an early slip, falling to the Ryerson Rams in a loss that was dominantly followed by a 14-game winning streak.
Ryerson, while starting strong and finishing atop the OUA East, amassed six losses, which pales in comparison to the top of the OUA West dominated by the likes of McMaster and the Mustangs.
On the subject of Western’s team, the aforementioned Mustangs were the team responsible for McMaster’s second loss of the season.
Similar to Ryerson’s performance earlier in the season, the Mustangs did it with strength by wrapping up McMaster in Hamilton in four sets, a notable result given the fact that the game was held in Hamilton.
It was perhaps a closer game than that suggests, but still shows that McMaster has their work cut out for them through this year’s OUA Playoffs.
As a note for the casual fan: because McMaster is the host of the National Championships, they have automatic qualification into the big show and do not need to qualify through the OUA playoffs.
That being said, these OUA games present a great way for the Mac men to test themselves in high-pressure situations. Preston reinforced the fact that McMaster will not take these games lightly.
Analyzing this season on an individual level, McMaster was rewarded with some strong performances across the lineup.
Brandon Koppers found himself in the top 15 of hitters across the U Sports field for kills per set. He gathered 203 kills through this season, joined by his teammates Matt Passalent and Andrew Richards, who added 162 and 161, respectively.
Across the OUA, Passalent and Richards ranked in the top five for hitting percentage, both being in the .290 range.
At the setter position, second year setter David Doty led a commanding season, finishing in the top 20 across U Sports volleyball for assists. He supported his hitters with just under 500 assists. He did this with the 12th best ratio of assists per set in U Sports at 9.24 per set.
This team has high expectations for this playoff run, and it ends with the elusive U Sports National Championship, which is an accolade that has remained out of reach for McMaster despite winning the previous five OUA Championships.
Two years ago when McMaster hosted this very same tournament, their journey was cut short similarly to last year in Edmonton, Alberta. This is now about redemption and resiliency.
For anyone who has seen the promotional video surrounding the National Championships that has been circulating for the past few months, one can expect the intensity in the Burridge Gym to be high and the expectations of world class volleyball to be even higher.
It’s playoff time. There is no more hiding behind your record, your inconsistencies or your future schedule. It is do or die.
As the motto for this year’s tournament so aptly suggests, it’s time to come “Back to Mac”.