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It felt like a 10 year-old wound was reopened.
The blue and white celebrated a gold medal-clinching victory amongst a sea of maroon and grey for the second time in a decade. The first time the Spartans captured CIS gold was back in 2006 when McMaster was the host.
That’s not the sort of deja-vu you want to have, especially with the way the stars seemed to have aligned for McMaster this year.
Trinity Western’s journey is somewhat of a Cinderella story — a concept almost exclusively married to the month of March. In January they were 9-9 and on the outside looking in for the Canada West playoff. Then they decided to go on a 7-1 run to end their season, winning the Canada West banner, dethroning the reigning national champs twice in two weeks, and upsetting the No. 1 team in the nation to win CIS gold.
“Getting hot down the stretch is all that really matters,” said Spartans Head Coach Ben Josephson.
The Spartans’ rise to national prominence happened so fast, but Josephson thinks it was just a matter of time.
“We were doing all of the right things and we were learning the things that we needed to learn, it just wasn’t producing results yet,” Josephson said. “We just kept saying to trust that we’re doing the right thing and to stay together.”
“This group never quits and the way we come together is so special. I’ve never been part of any group or team like this,” said Spartans setter Adam Schreimer.
McMaster started the match ablaze, looking like a team ready to run away with gold on their home floor. They got out to a quick 9-3 lead before the Spartans were forced to call a timeout to gather themselves.
Burridge’s sellout crowd was rowdy.
“We came out hot. I think that was one of the best starts our team has had all year,” said McMaster middle Alex Elliott. “There was a lot of energy and excitement.”
McMaster’s momentum was soon mellowed in the subsequent sets after Trinity Western started playing their trademark serve/block game.
“You can outplay better teams if you have everything going in the right direction. I don’t think we were the better team here, but we played better that night.”
“They try to serve really tough and keep you off the net and then when they’re attacking you, they try to keep the ball in play,” said Elliott. “They rely on their blocking to shut you down. They sort of try and let you make the errors.”
Assistant Coach Nathan Janzen acknowledges Elliott’s schematic observation.
“They play a very smart attacking game. They’re not always hitting hard. They’re very willing to keep balls in play, put it at the setter, and let their block take over a match,” said Janzen. “They did a fantastic job serving and blocking. I give them a ton of credit.”
McMaster showed flashes of their first set brilliance, but were never able to put it all together the rest of the match. Trinity Western took the wheel from the second set to the end.
“The only time we had everything humming was in the first set and we won that one. Every time we had something figured out, we’d fall back in something else,” Janzen said. “We missed a bunch of serves and let them get confident in what they were doing. From there we were behind the eight ball for the rest of the match.”
McMaster followed Trinity Western into the 20s in the second and third sets before losing, and they ultimately fell short of gold by dropping the fourth set.
“When sets get into the 20s that’s usually when we turn it up a notch and finish the job. We didn’t do that against them. It was uncharacteristic of us,” Elliott said.
The Spartans had a commanding lead throughout the fourth set and the Marauders never came back.
“We tried to focus on each individual point as its own mini-game rather than thinking about the entire match,” Elliott said. “That’s what we tried to do, but when you face a big deficit and give the opponent such a big lead, it’s hard to claw all the way back.”
Spartans star outside hitter Blake Scheerhorn scored a side-out off of Jayson McCarthy to officially end the Marauders title hopes. The twin-tower duo of Scheerhoorn and fellow outside hitter Ryan Sclater hurt McMaster as the two scored 20 and 24 points, respectively.
“Losing in the final here was pretty tough. It’s still pretty tough to accept it now a few days after it happened,” Elliott said. “I couldn’t believe it was over. It’s especially tough because it was my last match ever for Mac.”
Trinity Western, on the other hand, captured their third CIS title in six seasons making the Spartans look like a national dynasty.
“You can outplay better teams if you have everything going in the right direction. I don’t think we were the better team here, but we played better that night,” Josephson said.
It wasn’t meant to be for McMaster. The perfect ending of winning the program’s first national title at home didn’t come true.
“I think for all of us it’s obviously disappointing that we didn’t win gold at home. It was a great opportunity to win in front of our home fans,” Janzen said. “I think the guys are disappointed, but a CIS silver medal is still an incredible accomplishment. It’s hard, but we’re still very proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Photo Credit: Yousif Haddad