Running into the wind
March 18 marked the end of the McMaster men’s volleyball 2017-2018 season. After claiming their sixth straight Ontario University Athletics title, the Marauders’ quest for the national title was unfortunately brought to a halt thanks to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Trinity Western Spartans.
The U Sports championship weekend started off with a close win for the Marauders. After dropping the first two sets 25-22 and 25-21 in the quarter-finals to the Montréal Carabins, Mac bounced back to win the match in the last three sets.
“Going in to set three, we kind of just realized that we have nothing to lose. We were down 2-0 so we might as well give it our all and hold our heads high,” said fifth-year outside hitter Brandon Koppers. “Montréal is an amazing team. They’re very well coached and they have some amazing weapons, so that game could have gone either way. I’m happy it went our way and I’m just so proud of my teammates.”
Koppers ended the match with 20 kills, one assist and seven digs, totalling 25.5 points. Third-year outside hitter Andrew Richards also added 14.5 points, 13 kills and six digs of his own to the Marauders’ win.
“It always comes down to fundamental serving and passing and I thought in the first set we served atrociously,” said head coach Dave Preston. “It was probably one of our worst serving sets this year. Then we slowly started to clock back and put some pressure on some of that and took some of their options away from a serving perspective. But I thought our passing was rock solid all night.”
Moving on to the semifinals, the Marauders were faced with one of their biggest rivals on the national level. It was in the 2016 U Sports men’s volleyball championships, at McMaster, that the Spartans defeated the Marauders 3-1 in the final. So the semifinal loss was déjà vu for the Marauders and their fans.
Although disappointed with the outcome, Preston knows that when it comes to competing at the highest level, a loss like this hurts but is all part of the game.
“It’s going to come down to a point or two,” said Preston. “They’re going to make some adjustments and we’re going to make some adjustments, but our boys played hard tonight and so did they. We battled hard tonight and there’s not one kid in our locker room I could have asked more of. They did what they did and they gave me everything they had. I’m never going to ask my athletes to do anything more than they’re asked to do.”
In the semifinal game, the Marauders won the first set 25-18, but the Spartans bounced back to win the next three straight (25-23, 25-15 and 26-24) to advance to the gold medal match for the fourth-straight year.
Although Preston and the Marauders were hoping to leave the game against the Spartans with a different outcome, he knows that his team fought hard all year and they will not be giving up now.
“[These are the top four teams in the country] as long as these teams continue to battle it out like this, we’re going to continue to go,” said Preston. “I’ve been in this league for 26 years, I know we ran against the wind. It’s not uncommon for us. We’ve been running into the wind for 26 years, but we’re not going to stop running.”
Following the loss to the Spartans, the Marauders faced the Alberta Golden Bears in the U Sports bronze medal match. McMaster came back with zeal to defend their home court.
“How we did it was going to be more important than what we did out there today,” said Preston. “We needed to play with good energy and good body language and spirit. Alberta is a very physical team and you need to put some service pressure in a lot of places to make sure they can’t hurt you.”
Along with the bronze medal, Koppers got to take home Tournament All-Star honours. The all-star was one of the consistent dominant forces for the team throughout the weekend and the season.
“[Koppers] has had some ups and downs in this career and I think tonight he wanted to go out on a note that he wanted to go out on and I think he did,” said Preston. “I think he would have prefered a different outcome but in life, you don’t get to choose your own ending. You don’t get to write your own script.”
“That kid’s got some jam and I think big-time players show up at big times and that’s exactly what he did.”
McMaster Men’s Volleyball
Planning to play professionally overseas, Preston believes there is nothing but a bright future ahead of Koppers.
“That kid’s got some jam and I think big-time players show up at big times and that’s exactly what he did” said Preston on Kopper’s semi-final performance. “He probably could have used a little bit more help around him tonight, but he did everything he could and so did everybody else around him.”
For Preston, the overall experience has been nothing but another learning experience that gives them the tools to come out stronger the next time.
“That’s the lesson these young men have to learn overnight,” said Preston. “It’s not the lesson that we want, but you don’t get to script that stuff. But our kids will be fine — we have tremendous young men, so I think we’ll be okay.”
The season may be over for the Marauders but the loss does not define who they are as a program. Rather, it is just another chapter in their story that is yet to be finished.