Groenveld lends veteran leadership
The course of every season poses challenges and demands adjustments on the part of any team.
For their part, the Marauders have shown a remarkable ability to roll with the proverbial punches as injuries strike and squad roles continue to morph.
With backup players forced into central positions, young players seeing considerable court time and veterans grappling with the added responsibility of their seasoned status, the Maroon and Grey continue to rumble toward the top of the provincial standings.
Over the course of another successful weekend, the Marauders notched consecutive home court victories over the Waterloo Warriors and Guelph Gryphons and offered further proof of their collective strength in the process.
Austin Campion-Smith – who has seen limited action for much of this season in relief of setter T.J. Sanders – proved more than able to man the creative controls at the head of the Marauder offence with Sanders recovering from a recent concussion.
McMaster coach Dave Preston lauded his sophomore setter’s weekend efforts, praising Campion-Smith’s understanding of his role and continual readiness for action.
“He realizes his own value to our program,” said Preston of his substitute playmaker. “One of the things I stress to our student-athletes is to just be ready when I call their number, and sometimes they wish their number was called more often.
“But Austin is an amazing example of that concept in action. When I call out number eight, number eight is ready to go.
“He’s ready to play and he’s a great kid. Am I surprised by his success? No. But am I impressed by it? Absolutely. It’s a tough thing for a 19, 20-year old kid to step in. At this stage, every one of our games is a playoff match, and he’s handling it incredible well.”
Another young Marauder has made the most of an opportunity originally granted to him through a teammate’s injury. Alex Elliot – one of the most highly touted members of McMaster’s 2011 recruiting class – has grabbed hold of a starting spot at the middle position after a turbulent start to his career with the Maroon and Grey.
A middle hitter in high-school and at the club level, Elliot faced a transition to the outside of the Marauders’ formation as a relatively short central player at the height of 6’5”.
However, with Ian Cooper breaking his leg earlier this season, Elliot returned to his roots in the middle and hasn’t looked back since, cementing his place in the starting lineup.
Preston believes that the importance of middles in McMaster’s system has helped his rookie hitter embrace his role in the center to an entirely new degree.
“When he played club at high-school, the middle was not an integral spot because they tend to be more outside hitter dominated systems,” said the Marauder bench boss. “That’s not the way it works here. Our system is predicated on a strong middle attack. If we own the middle of the court, we have a better chance of owning the match.
“Being led back into that, especially after having taken some reps outside, has really led him into a mindset where he’s having fun. It’s almost a rejuvenation of sorts. He feels involved, and his attachment to playing in the middle is much greater than it was when he was looking in from the outside.”
Elliot’s partner in the middle, Tyson Alexander has taken the team by storm this season, and his 23-point performance on Jan. 21 serves as a further reminder of his incredible personal progress.
Recruited for his raw athletic potential, Preston believes that Alexander is gaining the volleyball-specific awareness needed to round out his game.
“His sport IQ is very high, and his volleyball IQ is going up every day,” said the coach of his third-year middle. “You can’t be submerged in the way that we play the sport around here and not get better at it. You either sink or swim and he’s swimming.
“You can tell that he’s carrying himself like a different dude. He’s not zoning out like he used to and being overwhelmed. He comes into timeouts knowing what’s going on.”
The Marauders’ growth has been aided by the steady leadership of their veteran players, chief among them being outside hitter Jeremy Groenveld. Returning to action from a slew of persistent injuries, Groenveld led his team through a rough patch of play against the Gryphons to secure the victory.
Preston indicates that in the wake of the Marauders’ lackluster third set on Jan. 21, the veteran outside was the catalyst behind the team’s renewed effort following the changeover.
“The guy who impressed me most was Jeremy,” said Preston. “As a senior on that team, he basically just grabbed those guys and said, ‘look, this is the way it has to go.’ We had an opportunity to make it more difficult for ourselves in that match and we have in the past. But I’m very confident about the hands that our leadership is in right now.”
That veteran guidance will need to continue as the Marauders face another imposing weekend of play, travelling to London on Jan. 28 to take on the conference-leading and CIS no. 6 Western Mustangs before visiting the Windsor Lancers the next afternoon.
For his part, Preston believes that the upcoming matches will serve as a crucial proving ground for his squad. He is confident that the Marauders are well prepared for the challenge ahead.
“We got two wins on the weekend and showed that we can play tough on a back-to-back,” said the coach. “Now we’ve got to do the two matches back-to-back on the road with the added adversity. They are as prepared for us as we are for them.