After bringing home the provincial silver medal last year, McMaster’s women’s volleyball team missed the Ontario University Athletics playoffs for the first time since 2003-2004. At the end of last season, a large part of the team’s veteran players decided to move on from the program, leaving an obvious hole that needed to be filled.
Jessie Nairn, a third-year commerce student, suddenly found herself as one of the more veteran players on a young squad in a new starting position. One of the youngest players on the court a season prior, Nairn took some time to wrap her head around her new role.
“It was definitely a big change, but I think I'm starting to really enjoy the role of being a leader on the team, and we're definitely really starting to try understand what our new culture is,” Nairn said. “Being able to shape that as a leader on the team is definitely super cool and something I'm really excited for, even the next year coming.”
While they were not able to ultimately finish where they wanted, the team played well considering their drastic roster changes and the fierce competition in the OUA West. The young Marauders were able to stay right in the playoff race until the very end of the season.
Although they didn’t really consider themselves underdogs, they knew the road to the playoffs wouldn’t be easy. As the team adjusted to having significantly less upper-year players than last year, including several OUA all-stars, the Marauders needed to find what their new identity would be.
“I think this year was a big start to try to decide how we want to be as a team, and really how we want to act and prove ourselves.” Nairn added. “I think we're ready, we know what we have to do next year and we're excited for sure.”
One major highlight of the season for this year’s squad was Nairn’s nomination to the OUA All-Star First Team. Making the most of her opportunity, Nairn posted team-highs in aces (34), kills per set (2.97) and points per set (3.8).
“This summer I realized I'd have to step up and be a big role on the team coming into this year,” Nairn said. “From there, I was never really aiming to be on a First Team or Second Team, but I was more so aiming to do everything I could to get the wins for our team and do the best I could.”
As one of the tallest people in her Grade 8 class, Nairn was originally convinced to play volleyball because “you can’t teach height”. Her love for the sport snowballed from there and her talent soon followed as volleyball became a large part of her life.
“I was definitely big into volleyball and I knew that volleyball is kind of what I wanted to do, so I knew I needed to go somewhere where I would have the training that I could trust in,” Nairn said. “Tim Louks is just one of the best coaches out there, and definitely in the OUA. So, I was really honored when he asked me to be on the team and that's definitely one of the major parts of why I came to the school.”
Also initially attracted to Mac’s engineering program, Nairn entered into Mac and soon found herself surrounded by all-star talent, inspiring her in her young volleyball career. With many nationally-recognized on both the women’s team and the men’s team with whom they are close, Mac’s volleyball program has a palpable competitive environment of success, which helped push Nairn in her career.
This aided in Nairn’s transition from second-year double-sub to third-year starting right side. While the move was initially shocking, she was ready for it, spending much of last year in the front row blocking, which got her excited to attack the offseason with enthusiasm.
“Starting this year was definitely, but more so mentally, to get into the game and be a big role on the team was hard to get used to,” Nairn said. “But once I did, it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed myself, and I think this year for me was just a really big year, and kind of proved to me what I can do and the places I can go and what I want to do with it.”
Heading into next season with a much more cohesive team, and the incredible administrative and fan support the team receives as praised by Nairn, the Marauders are poised for an exciting season.
“I’m excited. I think our team is going to be very strong next year mentally and physically because I think this offseason is going to be one of the hardest we've ever had just because of the outcome of this year,” Nairn said. “I think it's really going to drive us to be a very good team. I'm excited for the competition because I know none of the schools around us are getting any weaker, they're only getting better.”
While this might have been the first year they have missed the postseason in recent memory, having players like Nairn, Hailey Kranics and Zoe Mackintosh, along with an assortment of rising stars, the future looks bright. There probably won’t be any missed playoffs anytime soon.