After a very successful season, the Marauders finish their campaign off with a bronze medal win at the U Sport national championship on their home court
After a long season full of successes and long undefeated streaks, the Marauders have ended their mesmerizing season with a bronze in the U Sports national championship in Hamilton. The journey was a long one, having played a total of 34 games this season. There have been many ups and downs, with the main highlight being the astonishing 18 game winning streak in the Ontario University Athletics regular season.
In their final game of the season, the bronze medal game, the Marauders came out on top of the University of Alberta Golden Bears in a three set sweep, which brought their first national medal in years. The podium finish would have been impressive on it’s own, but the fact that it game against the first seeded team nationally made it that much sweeter.
“For me, coming into this program and seeing it already getting done before I came here, and seeing that the legacy has been continued, it’s something that I really wanted to be a part of. It’s been a goal for us, attaining a medal in the end knowing that we had home support,” said Sam Cooper, a fourth-year veteran player on the team and 2023 championship tournament all-star.
The game was a huge one for the Marauders; not only was this game the last one of the season, and for a medal in front of a hometown McMaster crowd, but it was also Dave Preston's last game as the head coach, after an astonishing 20 season career that featured all 12 of McMaster’s provincial titles.
“Leaving with hardware is a really good feeling. Although there were expectations of the colours being a bit different, we will still take it. . .Hats off to Alberta, they’re one of the best volleyball teams in Canada and to win against them for third place is a huge achievement. To have the medal is also a great honor for me that I’ll carry for the rest of my life,” explained Preston.
The preluding semifinal ended up in a disappointing three to one loss to the Trinity Western University Spartans, which is the game that sent McMaster to the bronze medal round. Breakout star Brendan Mills did not have the best game in the semifinal, having been subbed off for the injured Maxime Gratton after two sets, and started the game against Alberta with a couple of mistakes yet again. Fortunately, Mills quickly turned around by the end of the game, becoming an x-factor in having secured their third-place finish.
“My year started with a rough patch, so this set of games was not something that I was not used to. My whole year was full of ups and downs, and I feel that near the end of the season I managed to put the pieces together. In particular, in the OUA playoffs and nationals my performances got better. Yesterday (against TWU) was not my best game. The start today was not my best either, but I managed to get it together during the game, which I feel is better than getting myself together over a longer period, so I’m happy with that,” said Mills.
The Marauders have once again had an unforgettable season. There were many highlights to behold, such as the 18-game winning streak, or the OUA semifinals and finals sweeps against York and Windsor for their eleventh title in 15 years.
Although there may be regrets over falling short of the long-awaited gold medal in the nationals, the team can be absolutely delighted with the show of character and mesmerizing display over the season.
Marauders men’s volleyball sweeps their way through the first round as they head into a semi-final matchup against a historically difficult opponent
Mateusz Wlodarski with the recovery, Robbie Fujisawa with the set and Thomas Williams seals the deal with a spike to secure the third and final set. It’s not just déjà vu. The closer has struck again.
After a disappointing finish to their 2021-2022 national championship run, the Marauders made sure that they would not be upset again by way of a dominant victory and sweep against the Saskatchewan Huskies. The second seeded Marauders did away with the seventh seeded Huskies with final set scores of 25-19, 25-20, and 25-20.
The Huskies immediately move into the consolation bracket, where the best result they can achieve is a fifth place finish. The Marauders will continue on into the semi-final round, where they will face off against the western powerhouse Trinity Western University Spartans. The Spartans have proven a challenge for head coach Dave Preston and co. historically speaking, having taken four of the last six matchups.
“They’re one of the premier programs in the country. . . You’re into the top of the top, there’s no ducking. This is what [fans] pay for, this is why we’re here, this is what we want to do. Are we concerned? No. Are we excited? Yeah, very,” said Preston.
The major points of optimism from this game come in the form of superstar Sam Cooper, and breakout star Brendan Mills. After a concerning provincial championship game, Cooper is finally looking like himself again, finishing as the game leader in both kills, and aces. Meanwhile, Mills would continue showcasing his balanced style of play, taking home player of the game honors.
In a strong team showing overall, the game would finish in a familiar style with the closer, Thomas Williams, locking up the victory, just as he did to secure the Marauders the provincial championship one week ago. The team will look to continue their high level of play on Mar. 18 at 6:00 PM on their quest to the finals.
Marauders men’s volleyball continues to deal with wavering health as they head into the first round of the OUA playoffs
With the playoffs set to begin, the Marauders playoff rotation remains unclear. Maxime Gratton will be sidelined for the first-round matchup due to a lower body injury, while Sam Cooper will be a game time decision as a result of a foot fracture that kept him sidelined through the second half of the season.
Cooper, a 2021-2022 OUA first team all-star, as well as a 2021-2022 U Sport second team all-Canadian, is an integral part of the team, and the lack of his presence has been felt heavily of late. Losing another star player in Gratton has just made things that much harder for the team.
“[Cooper's] on his return to train, but we won’t put him in a position where he’s not ready. If he is ready then we kind of have to ease him into game mode because he hasn’t played since early January. Even if he was ready [physically] I’m not sure if he would be ready to play. . . He’s chomping at the bit to get at the floor, but we have to do what’s best for their health and wellbeing,” said Dave Preston, the head coach.
Between injuries to Cooper and Gratton, as well as load management for regulars Mateusz Wlodarski and Tyler Pavelic due to the growing urgency for health bodies, the Marauders have struggled of late.
McMaster dropped their final two games of the regular season, snapping their perfect record on the year while also suffering their first regular season loss since 2020, and their first back-to-back loss since the 2016 season.
Despite having lost Cooper in January, the Marauders maintained their position atop the standings, finishing in the first seed. Their first-round playoff matchup is none other than the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold – the team who ended the Marauders hopes of perfection in the second last game of the season.
“A 20-0 regular season was never something we talked about, it was never one of our goals. Our first goal was to secure as much home court advantage through the playoffs as we could, and we did that. . . There’s two ways you look at it; sometimes you win, sometimes you learn,” explained Preston.
The upcoming game is an opportunity for revenge against the bold, and there is a sense of growing anticipation amongst the team. They are confident, and ready for their shot at redemption.
“Yes, there is a lot of excitement to play them again. . . They played great when we played them down there, they earned every point of that victory, but it’s a new match Saturday,” said Preston
Heading into the playoffs, the team has spent their reading week preparing. As for what has changed in the past week, the answer is nothing. There is a reason the team has had so much success in recent years, and why they were able to put together such a strong season again this year. Now they’re ready to trust the process when it comes to playoff prep.
“Absolutely nothing [changed], the guys know what it takes. We’ve done it day in and day out for the last seven months. This isn’t something to change anything, this is the time to trust your training. . . It was really good to see two days prior to how locked in they were. The communication was impressive, the focus was impressive. These guys know what they’re doing. This isn’t a time for change, this is a time for trust,” said Preston.
The highly anticipated game will take place on Feb. 25 at 8:00 PM in Burridge Gym, as a result of the team having secured home court advantage throughout. It will immediately follow the women’s playoff game at 6:00 PM.
The team has moved to a perfect record of 17 wins as they look to close out the final three games of their season on the road
The countdown is on; after a perfect 12-win record in 2021-2022, the men’s volleyball team continue their efforts to repeat their perfect results this year. Before finishing the season, they will face off against the York University Lions on Feb. 11, the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold on Feb. 17, and the Toronto University Varsity Blues on Feb. 19. The Varsity Blues present the biggest challenge as a provincial championship rematch from last season, despite the Marauders having already taken them down earlier this year.
The last few games played really show what the team is capable of as they increased their record to 17 consecutive wins. In January they faced off against the Waterloo University Warriors and the Lions, who rank second and third in the Ontario University Athletics standings respectively. They swept the Warriors three wins to none and disposed of the Lions three wins to one.
Another extremely impressive showing came against the Royal Military College Paladins. The Paladins rank last in the standings, having yet to win a game this season. However, it was the final line score that really impressed. McMaster University would win their sets by final scores of 25 to 16, 25 to eight and 25 to six, executing a blowout through and through in their final home games of the year.
Despite the season long success, the possibility of the perfect record is still in question following star Sam Cooper suffering a foot fracture, which will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. Last season Cooper was named an OUA all-star, made the U Sports second team all-Canadian, and was named to the Canadian senior national team. He is a major loss, but is eying a playoff return.
Thus far the team hasn’t shown any signs of weakness without him in their recent matches, showing the strength of the team depth. Their ambitions remain high as stars like Mateusz Wlodarski and Maxime Gratton continue to shoulder the load, and breakouts like Brendan Mills have stepped up when needed.
“Our guys are really working hard, they know what’s at stake. . . They’ve got a great opportunity in front of them, and thus far they’re really doing a great job of taking advantage of that,” said Dave Preston, the team’s head coach.
Preston had an especially emotional couple of games in their final home stretch, as he will be retiring following the end of this season. In Preston’s time at McMaster, the Marauders would see 10 provincial championship victories, the first having come in the 2007-2008 season. Prior to the game against the Paladins on Feb. 3, McMaster held a pre-game ceremony to honor the reigning OUA coach of the year.
“It tugged at my heart strings pretty good. . . [my family is] woven into that fabric of the team, so it was pretty cool. I didn’t realize until midway through the tribute that it was my daughters that were doing the voice over work. It’s been 21 years here, my family has grown up here, we’ve bled maroon for a long time, so it meant a lot to us,” explained Preston.
Preston has long had the respect of his athletes and as much as he tried to keep his cool through his final home games ever to let the players focus on the game, the team knew what the game meant and what they were playing for.
“When I saw Dave’s family come down to greet him after [the ceremony] it honestly made me throw a tear, really fired me up. . . It feels really good to have such a convincing win and doing what we said we were going to do at home, especially for a moment like that,” said Wlodarski.
Despite the special circumstances between the ceremony for Preston, as well as seniors night on day two of the back-to-back to honor the graduates of the team — Wlodarski, Wojciech Kraj and Jason Wildeboer — the Marauders still kept their professional tone of taking the game in stride and looking at the bigger picture rather than celebrating the smaller victories along the way, taking on the “mamba mentality” perspective.
“We don’t really think of the set score as a gauge of how we’re doing, it’s more so a reflection of the preparation and the work we’re putting in. . . Team goals are to secure as much home court as possible for the playoffs,” said Wlodarski.
With the U Sports national championship taking place at McMaster this March, there is an opportunity for a picture-perfect ending for Preston’s time at the school. Between the newfound motivation for the team, the possibility of a perfect regular season record, the home court advantage all the way through nationals and the potential return of Sam Cooper just in time for the playoffs, the Marauders have all the momentum they can possibly ask for.
When it comes to questioning the goals and ambitions for the Marauders this season, nobody puts it as well as the head coach.
“I think that answer is pretty clear,” said Preston.
C/O Colin Wouda, McMaster Sports
The men’s volleyball team make OUA history once more, capping off the perfect final season for star veteran, Jordan Pereira
The McMaster Marauders men’s volleyball team is finally back on top of Ontario. In a back and forth battle starting in the 2005-2006 season, either the Queens Gaels or the Marauders have won the provincial title every year. McMaster currently holds nine titles while Queens holds the other six. In the previous two seasons the Gaels brought home the OUA title, but after an incredibly strong showing this past year, the Marauders have taken the trophy back to Hamilton.
With stars Sam Cooper and Jordan Pereira, the team was able to cap off their regular season with a perfect 12-0 record. Heading into the OUA playoffs the Marauders had some trouble with the Windsor Lancers, but managed to pull away before beating the Brock Badgers in the west division final and the Toronto Varsity Blues in the Forsyth Cup final.
“The whole playoff run was a good battle . . . Getting to play the finals at home in my last year and winning the game and having everyone celebrating really was a surreal feeling. After losing the last two, getting to win this one, I was crying after the game. I was overwhelmed with emotion,” said Pereira
On top of their legendary title run, several members of the team ended the year with individual recognitions. Dave Preston took the coach of the year award. Robbie Fujisawa and Maxime Gratton made the all-rookie team while Gratton also won the rookie of the year award. Wojtek Kraj and Mateusz Wlodarski were named to the second all-star team, while Sam Cooper and Jordan Pereira found themselves on the first all-star team.
The star-studded team continued their journey past the OUA playoffs and into the national tournament less than a week later. The team had their sights set on gold, but ended up losing their first matchup against the Calgary Dino’s, meaning that their first loss of the year would immediately send them into the consolation bracket.
“The quarter finals [of nationals] was a tough battle. Calgary is a really good team and we fell a little short. We fought really hard. Obviously it was a tough pill to swallow, losing in the quarter finals. We had our hopes on winning a national title,” explained Pereira.
The Marauders would follow the loss with two more wins against the Queen’s Gaels and the Manitoba Bisons, yielding a bittersweet fifth place finish in the tournament.
There were many emotional moments in the nationals run, but the player who was arguably most flooded with emotion was Pereira, who was playing the final game of his university career.
“In the Manitoba game right after the second set I was just sitting there on the bench like ‘woah, this is my last time wearing this uniform’ . . . I remember in Winnipeg after the last match I had my jersey on. Everyone was taking theirs off and changing, but I kept mine on. I didn’t want to take it off,” said Pereira.
Pereira spoke extremely highly of his time with the team, both this year and in the past. In his rookie year he became a champion with the team winning the OUA title. Now, he leaves a champion as well, cementing his legacy in maroon.
“Getting to win that in my final year was a great honour . . . I’m glad I chose this school. I made so many good friends, good relationships [and] met my girlfriend. It was really a great journey. We’ve had a lot of success, we’ve won some championships, we’ve lost some championships, but at the end of the day I’ve grown a lot as a person, as a player and as a student at the school. I’ll forever be grateful for picking this school,” explained Pereira.
Despite losing a star, the team is still set for years to come. It’s a very young team and the roster won’t experience much turnover heading into their next season. Pereira felt confident that the team will continue to find long term success and will have several more opportunities to reach their goal of a national title.
“This might be one of the most athletic teams we’ve had. The ceiling was really high . . . At the end of the day, we all play McMaster volleyball. Dave [Preston] runs a good show. I think they can expect the same as always with Dave as the coach because he’s built such a great culture. It’s the kind of thing that just keeps feeding into itself. Excellence breeds excellence. This team has a bright future. I see ourselves winning a championship one day,” said Pereira
Over the course of the season, the volleyball team had to be one of the most entertaining to watch for students, packing the house in the provincial championship matchup. With much of their core still intact for next season, they will continue to be a team for students and fans to keep their eye on for years to come.