By: Ryan Tse

It was not always clear for Bennett Swan that he could reach the heights he did this year as an individual and as part of McMaster’s men’s volleyball team.

The 6’7” middle from Oakville professed that he was not the best volleyball player growing up in elementary school, though he was aided by favourable genetics.

“I was really bad when I started — but I was tall, so that was a good place to start,” Swan said.

Swan has come a long way since then, being named to the Ontario University Athletics All-Rookie Team and playing a big role in helping McMaster earn its sixth-straight OUA Championship.

The presence of McMaster volleyball loomed large in Swan’s life even before he arrived at the school. Raised just a short ride from Hamilton, he had a chance to attend McMaster volleyball camps starting in Grade 6. At these camps, Swan met players and coaches who are now his peers and mentors at McMaster. It was there that he realized he wanted to pursue volleyball at the club level and beyond.

Before making the decision to focus on volleyball, Swan was involved in several sports, from lacrosse and soccer to hockey and basketball. In particular, Swan loved basketball — but he soon found it was no match for the team-oriented passing game of volleyball that he fell in love with.

“The biggest thing was that volleyball was so much more of a team sport than the other sports I played before,” Swan said. “The thing that’s so fun and interesting about volleyball is that you only get, at most, two touches [per person] every time it comes over to your side. You really cannot do anything by yourself. There’s so many moving parts and, as a middle, my position really relies on good passing and good setting for me to have an impact on offense, so I feel that the most.”

After excelling at club volleyball, Swan was recruited to play for the Marauders this year. Swan said it was an easy decision to join McMaster’s volleyball program, not just because of its historical success but also for the chance to play alongside older players he had admired since he was younger.

“It’s funny — a lot of my teammates now were players that I looked up to growing up as like the volleyball legends, especially people like Andrew [Richards] and BK [Brandon Koppers],” Swan said. “I always watched them play, and it was always like, ‘At what point do I become a player that’s competing with these guys?’”

“Growing up, it always seemed like such a big gap between university and where I was at. The first couple weeks, or even months, of being on the team was a bit surreal.”

Swan may have been nervous at first upon joining the team, but that passed quickly. He cites the strong leadership of the veterans as a major factor in helping him feel at ease.

“I would give a lot of credit to the leaders on our team, particularly Andrew Richards, BK, Connor [Santoni] and Pav” [Pavel Jedrzejewski],” Swan said. “They’ve really gone out of their way to make sure that we’ve all felt comfortable.”

Another important part of Swan’s successful transition to the Mac team is the presence of his childhood friend, Liam Irwin, as a fellow rookie on the squad.

“Liam Irwin was my best friend playing club volleyball — best friend my whole life,” Swan explained. “So it was kind of an easy transition coming in because we could just be ourselves around each other and that luckily morphed into the group.”

Beyond that, Swan’s first year was just about competing hard every day for playing time, something that’s ensured with the depth of talent on this team.

“The idea is that everyone has the same opportunity to play and be a starter and to earn their stripes,” Swan said. “Coming in, I definitely expected there to be more of a distance between the rookies and the vets, but there’s really no difference at all and I think that has to do with the positive rivalry as well.”

Throughout the year, Swan has improved immensely and gained the trust of his coach, earning more playing time than Swan expected. He was just one of seven players on the team (and the only freshman) to play in sixteen regular season matches.

Of course, Swan’s also played a key role in many big playoff games for McMaster this year, matches filled with intense situations fraught with pressure. In learning how to deal with the stress of big games and the challenge of balancing work with volleyball, Swan credits weekly meetings with assistant coach Ian Eibbitt.

Maintaining an even-keeled composure on the court has been key to Swan’s success. His mental stability is something that he’s worked on and picked up from the team culture this year as well.

“I would say I’m stable, but I can be loud and fiery when I want to,” said Swan. “A big thing about myself and the rest of our team is that we’re really good at managing our emotion throughout the game. I don’t know if I’ve always been like that, but I’ve picked that up a lot this year from the way everyone else carries themselves.”

Off the court, Swan maintains an easygoing personality, not afraid to infuse humour into any situation.

“I would say that I am a good people person,” Swan said. “I bring a good sense of humour to the locker room and to the team. There’s a way to incorporate good humour all the time that will always lighten the mood. Nothing you do you should take too seriously that you’re afraid to laugh.”

When asked how he has improved over the season, Swan pointed to his serving and how he’s worked on the intricate details of his blocking technique. It has also been tough at times to adapt to the speed of the university game.

“When you first come in, there are a lot of things to learn. It feels like you’re given forty things to learn in forty seconds,” Swan said. “For that, one of the biggest things that was difficult for me to get over was the speed of the game. Honestly, it just comes down to [Coach] Dave telling me, ‘You’re going to do great. You just have to catch up and catching up will take some time.’ It’s understanding that you’re not going to figure everything out in one day.”

Looking forward, Swan’s focused on getting stronger this year to help McMaster become even stronger next year.

“I would say that mentally, I understand the game of volleyball,” Swan said. “I think I’ve learned that stuff a lot, so now it’s just about putting on pounds and getting stronger so that I can maintain what I’m doing for a long time.”

McMaster’s long tradition of success can be attributed to many factors, but at the core is the constant influx of talented young players stepping up to take on bigger roles. Bennett Swan is the latest and one of the brightest examples of this pattern. He is ready to elevate his game to even further heights, and it’s a good bet you will be hearing much more from him next year.

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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.”

 

Dave Preston
Head Coach
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.

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By: Ryan Tse

Marauders fans filling Burridge Gym on the March 10 weekend barely got their money’s worth — not that they were complaining. After an early scare dropping the first set to Windsor, the Marauders wasted no time in establishing their dominance by winning the next three sets. They then commanded the finals on Saturday, winning in straight sets over Queen’s.

In doing so, McMaster captured an Ontario University Athletics record-breaking sixth-straight title. It’s not supposed to be easy to make history, but the team made it look that way with their quick work of the Lancers and Rams.

Coach Dave Preston was happy with his team’s performance and how they were able to execute the game plan.

“That first set was more about Windsor than us,” Preston said. “They were amazing. So we kind of weathered the storm. We knew that they were going to be good. In the second set, I thought we did a really good job of responding and waiting for our opportunity to capitalize.”

“I thought we played defence pretty well all weekend,” Preston added. “Even against Queen’s in the final, I thought our block was real good, our defense was real good and our serving strategy worked. I think we executed pretty well. Overall, I was pretty pleased.”

However, the path to becoming the top team in Ontario was not always smooth. Fourth-year outside-hitter and OUA Player of the Year Andrew Richards admitted that he was not sure what this team would look like coming into the season, especially with the departure of key players last year like Danny Demyanenko and Andrew Kokur.

“There was a little bit of a question mark earlier in the season as to what kind of team we would be or if we could live up to what we had done in past years,” said Richards. “But our older guys and even some of the younger guys have stepped up big and filled those roles. We opened up the season with a loss, so right from the beginning we had a bit of a wake-up call and we learned some valuable lessons that teams are going to bring their best stuff when they face us. So if we’re not prepared or if we’re not 100 per cent engaged, it’s not going to go our way just because we think it should.”

Without some familiar faces leading the way, this year provided ample opportunity for young players to blossom. In particular, Preston mentioned the emergence of all-rookie middle hitter Bennett Swan, second-year libero Jordan Pereira and sophomore setter David Doty. Doty leads the charge as setter, masterfully organizing the potent Marauders offence.

“As leaders, our leadership council has been outstanding,” said Preston. “But it’s not always about leadership, sometimes it’s about fellowship. Leaders are only as good as the willingness of people to follow. Our other guys are very willing to step in line and do what is necessary. I’m proud not just of our leaders, but also our younger guys who have stepped up in big roles this year.”

One pivotal moment that gave the Marauders a special boost was a loss to Western in the second-last game of the regular season, which provided an opportunity for the team to refocus and get back to basics.

“Near the end of our season, there were a couple weeks where we were squeaking out wins just by a little bit, and then finally, we lost to Western in our own gym,” said Richards. “That was kind of the last straw. We realized that how we had been playing isn’t really good enough for where we wanted to get to.”

What becomes apparent as you speak to the Marauders is how mentally composed the team is, never looking too far ahead or letting any semblance of arrogance or distraction infiltrate the locker room. The team always remains focused just on the game immediately ahead of them, stepping over one stone at a time to achieve their long-term goals.

“Dave’s not concerned with the outcome,” Doty said. “He’s just concerned with how the outcome was executed.”

Both Doty and Richards credit the team’s winning mindset in large part to Preston’s guidance. Preston’s been on the Marauders’ sideline for 16 years and was awarded Coach of the Year for the fourth time this year. An interesting insight into Preston’s mentality is that he always wants to keep the team grounded so that they are not caught up in long-term championship goals or breaking records.

“[Six straight OUA championships] didn’t come up all season, not once. It wasn’t in our language. It wasn’t in our conversations. We talked about it after that match and said, ‘That’s kinda neat.’ But some of these guys have only been here a year, so six means nothing to them,” said Preston. “It’s my job to simplify this as much as I can. It’s a nice thing to talk about on a Monday afternoon, but the truth is before the games we’re talking x’s and o’s and how we want to maintain a composure, not how we’re trying to rewrite the history book.”

Another factor that makes him successful is how much he cares for the players, not just as players, but also as men and students. Preston views his role, especially for today’s athlete, as one where he is “facilitating opportunity”.

“They’re self-motivated, self-directed athletes,” said Preston. “They don’t need me screaming and yelling at them. What they need is someone in front of them who’s showing them the way and telling them how we can do things a little bit better.”

All of Preston’s work in developing the talent of this Marauders squad has put them in a great position to chase down more history this weekend, as they vie for McMaster’s first U Sports national championship. While the Marauders finished with a bronze medal last year at nationals, this year comes with a new team with fresh faces and another chance at glory.

What makes this weekend even more special is that the championship will be hosted by Mac for the second time in the past three years. The players know it will be special to compete in front of their home fans.

“We have the greatest advantage we could ask for in playing at home,” said Richards. “Now it’s about competing hard, enjoying ourselves and trusting all the hard work we’ve put in. We know that these next couple of days will be some of the best memories of our lives so we’re really just gonna soak it all in and leave it out on the floor. We’ve taken care of the OUA so many times, but I think we’re all ready to win the big one, so this is a good year to do it.”

No matter what happens, it is undeniable this season has been a high-flying, successful journey for the Marauders.

“This year we’ve really, really meshed well and I think the team culture has been good,” Richards added. “We don’t have to prove anything to anyone, we kind of do it for ourselves and do it because we enjoy the game and enjoy playing with each other. It’s been a really enjoyable season, and the guys have had a great time along the way.”

For now though, reflection can wait. It’s all about U Sports and the challenge awaiting them this weekend. There’s no doubt the team has the tools to win the championship. Now it’s time to see if they can execute at Burridge Gym and step into the spotlight on the national stage as Canada’s best.

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By: Griffin Marsh

In a needed bounce back performance, the McMaster men’s volleyball team pushed aside the low-ranked Trent University Excalibur to close out the 2017-2018 regular season.

Following a rare loss to the Western Mustangs on Feb. 17, the Marauders returned to form in Burridge Gym for their regular season finale and wrapped up the match in three commanding sets.

The game was a complete team performance with the hitters completing at an excellent efficiency of .443, which included 36 kills and only nine hitting errors.

Individually, the game was led by Marauders Craig Ireland and Andrew Richards who contributed seven kills and 8.5 points, respectively.

Trent presented a negative hitting efficiency at -.167 in an error prone performance for the Excalibur.

With this victory, McMaster has locked up top spot in the Ontario University Athletics’ West division, and hosting rights throughout the playoffs and into the 2018 U Sports National Championships.

Seeing as McMaster is hosting the National Championships this coming March, Hamilton Volleyball fans will be happy to know that not a single Marauder game will be played away from the Burridge Gym.

This string of playoff games begins on Saturday, March 3, as the Nipissing University Lakers, ranked third in the OUA East division, visit for an OUA Quarterfinal Matchup.

Throughout the season, head coach Dave Preston has stressed this is exactly where the Marauders wanted to be. The goal has been from the beginning to control as much home court advantage as possible through the playoffs, a destiny that was sealed with the Trent victory.

The reality is that that original goal for this point in the season may not have come as easy as some followers of McMaster volleyball may have expected.

The Marauders finished this season with a record of 15-2, matching their loss total from the previous two seasons combined.

This season also started with an early slip, falling to the Ryerson Rams in a loss that was dominantly followed by a 14-game winning streak.

Ryerson, while starting strong and finishing atop the OUA East, amassed six losses, which pales in comparison to the top of the OUA West dominated by the likes of McMaster and the Mustangs.

On the subject of Western’s team, the aforementioned Mustangs were the team responsible for McMaster’s second loss of the season.

Similar to Ryerson’s performance earlier in the season, the Mustangs did it with strength by wrapping up McMaster in Hamilton in four sets, a notable result given the fact that the game was held in Hamilton.

It was perhaps a closer game than that suggests, but still shows that McMaster has their work cut out for them through this year’s OUA Playoffs.

As a note for the casual fan: because McMaster is the host of the National Championships, they have automatic qualification into the big show and do not need to qualify through the OUA playoffs.

That being said, these OUA games present a great way for the Mac men to test themselves in high-pressure situations. Preston reinforced the fact that McMaster will not take these games lightly.

Analyzing this season on an individual level, McMaster was rewarded with some strong performances across the lineup.

Brandon Koppers found himself in the top 15 of hitters across the U Sports field for kills per set. He gathered 203 kills through this season, joined by his teammates Matt Passalent and Andrew Richards, who added 162 and 161, respectively.

Across the OUA, Passalent and Richards ranked in the top five for hitting percentage, both being in the .290 range.

At the setter position, second year setter David Doty led a commanding season, finishing in the top 20 across U Sports volleyball for assists. He supported his hitters with just under 500 assists. He did this with the 12th best ratio of assists per set in U Sports at 9.24 per set.

This team has high expectations for this playoff run, and it ends with the elusive U Sports National Championship, which is an accolade that has remained out of reach for McMaster despite winning the previous five OUA Championships.

Two years ago when McMaster hosted this very same tournament, their journey was cut short similarly to last year in Edmonton, Alberta. This is now about redemption and resiliency.

For anyone who has seen the promotional video surrounding the National Championships that has been circulating for the past few months, one can expect the intensity in the Burridge Gym to be high and the expectations of world class volleyball to be even higher.

It’s playoff time. There is no more hiding behind your record, your inconsistencies or your future schedule. It is do or die.

As the motto for this year’s tournament so aptly suggests, it’s time to come “Back to Mac”.

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By: Ryan Tse

Anyone paying attention to the McMaster men’s volleyball team this season knows that they are a bona fide powerhouse.

After losing the first game of the season, the team has rattled off 10 straight wins, the past four being 3-0 straight set victories. They look poised to challenge for a fifth-straight Ontario University Athletics championship.

A big part of the team’s success so far has been the play of second-year setter David Doty. Despite his relative youth, Doty is one of the top setters in the OUA, averaging 9.6 assists per set, which puts him at third in the province.

What makes Doty’s performance even more impressive is the fact that he only began to play volleyball seriously in Grade 8. Born in Toronto, Doty began playing hockey as his primary sport at three years old. However, after moving to London, Ontario in Grade 6, he eventually switched to volleyball when he was 13.

Doty joined the London Volleyball Club Fire, a then-new local club opened by a friend’s father. From then on, he never looked back, playing for his high school team at Oakridge Secondary School and his club team, before joining the Marauders last year.

Doty’s transition from hockey to volleyball and his subsequent success on the court shows his athleticism, but also his love and dedication to sport.

“That was always on my radar —  to be part of a program that’s up there on the provincial and national rankings.”


David Doty
Setter
Men’s Volleyball Team

“You hear a lot about people switching from hockey to volleyball, but there’s also a lot of people that pick it up later than me that are probably better than me,” Doty said.

“I come from a pretty athletic family and there were always lots of sports involved. I kind of like learning about a lot of sports. [Volleyball]’s a fun sport to learn about and a fun sport to play.”

When deciding on a university, Doty, a second-year economics student, was drawn to McMaster by the success of their nationally-ranked volleyball program, in addition to its promising academics.

“I checked out the school, I liked what I saw, and the academics fit for me,” said Doty. “Obviously the volleyball program is pretty good, so that was also a good fit for me. I do not like to lose a lot, so I think I brought the mentality of wanting to help the program be one of the first Ontario schools to win a national title. That was always on my radar — to be part of a program that’s up there on the provincial and national rankings.”

Even though Doty is now the full-time setter for Mac, he often split time between left-side and setter before his time as a Marauder, getting extra reps as a setter for the provincial and youth national teams. However, since coming to McMaster he’s played solely at the setter position.

After an injury opened up playing time, he played in 13 regular season matches out of a possible 17 last year. This year, he’s played in every game so far. Doty is comfortable at the setter position and likes the role of setting up his teammates.

“As a second year of being a full-time setter, it has been delayed since I probably have about 10,000 less reps than other people who have been setting for most of their career,” Doty said. “But I’m not that far behind in the sense of how to run an offence. Setting is a lot about messing with the other team and strategizing and all that stuff, so that part is there.”

Being the starting setter on the court for every game is a new challenge for Doty, and one that he doesn’t take for granted. The caveat of being in a strong program such as the one at Mac is that the internal competition for playing time is always fierce among the Marauders.

“This year’s role is different,” Doty said. “It is more stress on my everyday practice schedule. I’m still competing with the other guys for a spot. It is never a guarantee to get a starting position, so I have to bring my A game every day.”

Doty has to be vocal on the court when strategizing and running the offence, but he says he is quieter when he is preparing for games or working out.

“Off the court I’m not as vocal,” said Doty. “As a personality trait, I kind of do my own thing and once I get in the zone, I just try to do my work.”

Outside the realm of volleyball, family and sports are important to Doty as well. He likes to hang out with friends and generally take a stress-free approach to life.

Though the team is playing well, Doty insists that he and the team are taking it one game at a time, and not looking too far ahead of the challenge directly in front of them.

“With our team, it is day by day, so we are not really focused on winning the OUAs,” Doty explained. “It’s always something we work towards but it is not something we say everyday. When that time comes, we’ll deal with it, but for now it is just about taking this weekend to get better as a player and a person. The rest will take care of itself.”

Doty’s solid play has earned him some recognition, as he was recently named one of the two McMaster Pita Pit Athletes of the Week. In just his second season in maroon, Doty is only going to get better as he looks to help continue the tradition of Marauders men’s volleyball excellence.

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By Griffin Marsh

Much has been written in this newspaper about McMaster’s volleyball programs over the previous weeks. The men’s and women’s teams have had their fair share of success in the shape of sweeping victories, both at home and away from Burridge Gym.

 This week there is a chance to catch our breath from this exhausting and full season and focus on a player who is both a leader for the men’s volleyball team and a star destined for a big future.

Brandon Koppers is now in his fifth year of eligibility at McMaster and is playing some of his best volleyball yet. But that simplified understanding would miss the hard work, adversity and frustration that Koppers has faced to get to this point.

I chose to feature Koppers in this article because the story of his time at McMaster is just that, an interesting story. His journey began by immediately connecting to a program and culture he described as “something special.” Since then, it has been a tale of ups and downs that leave Koppers in an exciting position, with a budding professional career on the horizon playing volleyball overseas.

I asked Koppers to reflect on his time at McMaster as it comes to a close, and he was nothing but grateful and positive.

“Overall my experience at McMaster has been top notch,” said Koppers. “The bonds I have created with my teammates are what I hold most dear and what have impacted me the most. These bonds have shaped me into the person I am today.”

Clearly for Koppers, good teammates have always been the key to a great and successful program, and this has defined his approach to being a leader in his later years with the team.

“The leaders before me have really set the standard high and I believe that I will do a great job,” Koppers said. “The belief my teammates have in me has allowed me to be a leader on this team. I am most proud of the fact that my teammates believe in me.”

Koppers’ time at McMaster has been defined as one of leadership and excellence, but in speaking to Koppers, the impact of his third-year injury woes clearly has had a lasting impact.

“My third year has easily been the most difficult year of my university career and my life so far,” said Koppers. “Before my third year, I had no barriers in my development and a lot of things came easy. After being diagnosed with arthritis and having to sit out for almost an entire season, I learned that before that time I was never really thankful for the opportunity to play the sport I love.”

The ability to reflect on one’s position in the sports world and fight through adversity like this separates the good athletes from the elite athletes. Koppers puts forward a fine balance of humility, pride and confidence, a balance that has created an excellent athlete, both on and off the court.

"This experience drives me today to become the person and athlete that I want to be,” Koppers added. “It is easy to become complacent when everything is going well and sometimes it takes an experience like what I went through to guide yourself to be the person you want to be.”

On top of excellent leadership and heightened resiliency, Koppers has put together an extremely successful volleyball career. This season he sits third in the Ontario University Athletics rankings for kills per set, and finds himself seventh in the U Sports rankings for the same statistic. He found himself in a similar position last season as well.

He has also been on teams that have won OUA Championships for the previous four years and appeared in the U Sports Championships every year, though not quite winning the whole thing just yet.

In previous conversations with head coach Dave Preston, he had nothing but praise to put forward regarding Koppers. When I asked coach Preston for an idea for this article he immediately suggested Koppers’ story, highlighting his persistence and strength, battling back from injury and featuring on the National B team this past summer.

As this season wraps up, exciting things still lay in wait for Koppers. Most notably a professional opportunity playing volleyball overseas next season.

“It has been a dream since I was a kid, and to have the opportunity to fulfil my dream makes me excited,” said Koppers.

   But before that can become a reality, there is still volleyball to be played and a U Sports Championship to be fought for in our own Burridge Gym. One thing is clear in reaching out to Koppers this week, the focus and commitment is very much rooted in this team at McMaster. There is an exciting energy building as this season picks up pace.

The men’s volleyball team will be away from Hamilton for the next few games, but they will return to the Burridge Gym on Feb. 17. Stay tuned, the Marauders still have a lot of important match-ups ahead.

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Honesty, integrity, respect and excellence. These are the four pillars that drive the McMaster men’s volleyball team every season. For head coach David Preston, these values have nothing to do with volleyball or sports themselves, but everything to do with developing student-athletes a whole. So far, this has definitely been working in his favour.

The team headed into the 2017 winter break with a 6-1 record, including a five-game winning streak, leaving them in first place in the Ontario University Athletics West Division and ranked ninth in U Sports.

Although this is quite an impressive feat, it is the 7-0 record against international competition in the last two years, which includes a 4-0 record this season against two of the top National Collegiate Athletic Association’s teams, that has people talking.

The Marauders remained undefeated against the reigning NCAA Division I champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes, back in October when they faced them for the second time during the Nike Team North American Challenge.

Against the visiting Buckeyes, the Marauders were ultimately able to pull ahead and leave Burridge Gym as international champions after a close game the first day and a second day that saw the Marauders go undefeated.

Then over the winter break, McMaster played host once again to American opponents, the Long Beach State University 49ers. The Mac men proved to not be the nicest of hosts, handily defeating their Californian foes in back-to-back games.

The set scores against the 49ers were 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, 21-25 and 15-13, leaving the team, fans, friends and family with an awesome head start to their New Year’s Eve celebrations.

But for Preston, the undefeated international record is the last thing on his mind. For him, being able to play teams at a high level and not have that competitive consequence of seeing them in the playoffs is one of the major benefits.

“You want to play at the highest level you can but you don’t want to show everything you got so early in the season and have it come back and haunt you in the playoff stretch,” said Preston.

“It is not about our record or ranking because that is just not something we talk about. We just prepare for our next opponent and take care of our side of the net.”

 

David Preston
Head coach
Men's volleyball

“Playing a new group of guys from Long Beach is a good task for us,” added Andrew Richards, Mac’s leading scorer of the final night. “Especially when it comes to creating a game plan against a team we have never played before.”

Although the level of exposure of playing such high-profile programs is a bonus for McMaster Athletics, the Marauders mainly use these matches to see what gets exposed and what works well or not. Then they make the appropriate changes to play even better against the top Canadian teams.

“This way you get to play great competitive matches with zero competitive cost,” Preston added.

The combination of the high profile matches and the regular season winning record has brought out a large number of consistent supporters to McMaster’s Burridge Gymnasium, a luxury not many Canadian universities have.

“Our goal is to try and create that championship culture,” said Preston. “So that when we get into those matches that we really want to be in at the end of the year, it is not that much different then what we have dealt with all year.”

The addition of the new Litzen Family scoreboard generously donated by T. Litzen’s Sports, the entertainment provided by DJ Jukebox and McMaster Athletics, plus the impressive level of athleticism by the Marauders themselves has all honed not only championship culture, but has also increased Marauder fan culture.

“To actually play in a national championship and represent your school is a feeling like no other. To be able to do it at your school, for your school is unbelievable.”

 

David Preton
Head coach
Men's volleyball

“It is good for us to get used to using that energy from the fans in a good way rather than getting nervous from it,” said Richards.

With the 2018 U Sports Men’s Volleyball Championship being held at McMaster in March, the ultimate goal for the men’s team is not just to be able to play in it, but to come away with the win.

“To actually play in a national championship and represent your school is a feeling like no other,” said Preston. “To be able to do it at your school, for your school is unbelievable.”

Hamilton last hosted the national championships two years ago, but the Marauders fell short to the Trinity Western University Spartans. The Marauders will now have an opportunity to relive that experience in front of a roaring home crowd. But coming away with a win is still McMaster’s main objective.

The Marauders go into each season with three goals: securing as much home court advantage as they can for the playoffs, qualifying to compete for an OUA championship and winning the chance to compete at the national championships against teams from across Canada.

“Everything we do is around those three goals,” said Preston. “It is not about our record or ranking because that is just not something we talk about. We just prepare for our next opponent and take care of our side of the net.”

As for what is next for the 2018 half of the 2017-2018 season, Preston and the Marauders do not plan on making any major adjustments. The team enjoyed a bye week right after the break and has been preparing to face their next opponents the Brock Badgers and Windsor Lancers on Jan. 12 and 13.

The Marauders find themselves currently ranked tenth in the Jan. 9 U Sports national poll as the only Ontario team to crack the list. Solid wins against the Badgers and the Lancers stand in their way of moving up in the rankings.

The match against the Lancers will be one to watch as the Windsor team sits tied for second in the OUA West, two points behind McMaster and looking to move ahead in the playoff hunt.

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By: Griffin Marsh

The McMaster men’s volleyball team, the Ontario University Athletics defending champions, produced a dominant weekend of matches at Windsor and Western. This is how the team initially intended to start the season before their first OUA game resulted in a shocking loss.

The OUA volleyball season is long. It is challenging and strong performances are asked of teams quickly. These are the lessons that the volleyball team is grappling with as the 2017-2018 season begins to pick up speed.

Now five games into the season, the Marauders sit at a record of 4-1 coming off of a weekend double header on the road at Windsor and Western. In Windsor on Saturday, the Marauders swept the Lancers clean, taking the match 3-0. At Western on Nov. 12, McMaster fought for a five set victory, taking the fifth and deciding set 15-13.

This was a much-needed bounce back for the Marauders, who sat at 2-1 coming into the weekend. This included an eye-opening loss at home to the Ryerson Rams in the season opener. Consistency is key for coach Dave Preston, which does not come overnight.

“I really like the way we are starting to play,” said Preston. “I am not sure I could have said that a couple of weeks ago. I think our efficiency and quality can start to improve a lot, but I do not think there is a coach in the country who could disagree with that for any of their teams.”

For the Marauders, this season has been a roller coaster so far. Following the challenging loss to Ryerson, McMaster won both its next two matches against Waterloo and Guelph in very different fashions.

“Waterloo was the full package,” said Preston. “Then Guelph was kind of a wash because we played two good sets and two average sets. So right now, I think we are pretty much average.”

What was clear in talking to Preston is that no one in that dressing room is striving to be average.

“For us to go from low to super high to average, as a coach, those are rides I that I do not really want to be on,” Preston said.

Shifting the focus back to this past weekend, that search for consistency and excellence in play seemed to begin to express itself. This notably emerged against Windsor, who came into the match ranked fifth in the country.

According to Preston, this was no small feat as Windsor boasts two of the best outside hitters in the country in Pierce Johnson and Brad Gyemi.

Against McMaster, Gyemi was the most effective, scoring 13 points. Yet neither player could easily solve the Marauder defence, a huge key to their success.

The Marauders also finished the Windsor match with a strong middle presence, strong defensive performances and continued to work to limit the serving errors — three places that hurt McMaster against Ryerson.

That makes three road wins in a row for McMaster, something that coach Preston believes to be of great importance.

While the results against Windsor and Western may suggest a different reality for this team, the casual fan may have noticed that McMaster found itself outside the U Sports Top 10 this week for the first time in many years.

When this was raised with coach Preston, he was quick to put the panic button back into the drawer and explain that even when the things have been excellent in previous seasons, the Top 10 was never a point of discussion for this program.

“I think people use the Top 10 for a variety of reasons,” Preston explained. “Some use it to validate, some use it to motivate, some use it to market.”

Coach Preston also clarified that there is a new ranking system being employed by U Sports this year, called aptly, the Volleyball Ranking System.

The VRS combines your results, your opponents’ results and your opponents’ opponents’ results, including the margin of victory within each match, to determine a mathematical ranking.

This system is much more controlled and unbiased compared to the coach’s poll that had been employed in previous years. It also allows for unity between the Top 10 rankings and the eventual National Championship seedings when those are released during the playoffs.

What that means today is that there is very little data on this Marauder team, having played their pre-season against non-U Sports programs, and the data that does exist may not be totally representative of the whole picture.

Either way, this is not phasing Preston and his team.

“We do not think of ourselves as a good team because others think that as well,” explained Preston. “We think of ourselves as a good team because we know what we are capable of and what we want to play.”

Following wins in Windsor and Western, I may have to agree with him. This season may not have initially gone according to plan, but this team will find its groove. When it does, the OUA should watch out, because this team remains primed to compete for an OUA and U Sports Championship this season and well into the future.

The next step in that search for its groove is Nov. 19, as McMaster travels to Brock to face the Badgers at 4 p.m.

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By: Griffin Marsh

The McMaster men’s volleyball team showed grit, resiliency and power while taking both matches of the North American Challenge against two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

World-class volleyball returned to the Burridge Gym last weekend as the men’s volleyball team hosted Ohio State for a two-game series, a preseason tune-up that has become synonymous with sold out crowds, hard hits and tremendous volleyball.

But to understand what this game means for this team, we must reverse the clocks a couple of weeks to this team’s preseason trip to Poland over reading week. While in Poland, the men were exposed to professional-level volleyball and have worked to reflect on that experience leading into this past weekend against Ohio State.

The opportunity to face some of Poland’s best and the NCAA’s best in the lead up to your U Sports regular season is a very unique reality, and something that is not lost on head coach Dave Preston.

“We have to do our student-athlete experience in our own way,” said Preston. “I am really happy with what we are able to provide our students in terms of their volleyball experience,”

An important learning experience in Poland and a firm belief in the McMaster process from the head coach down set the stage for a two-match series against Ohio State this past weekend. The team was able to apply what they had learned in their offseason.

Remembering that the North American Challenge is a preseason friendly for both these teams was easy to forget when entering the packed, noisy gymnasium on both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The first set on Saturday was close and intense, with McMaster squeaking out a 29-27 victory, much to the enjoyment of the roaring crowd.

The rest of Saturday’s match was an up-and-down affair, with the Buckeyes taking the next two sets, including a third set that McMaster controlled throughout but lost after a few unlucky bounces near the end. The resiliency was expressed in the last two sets as McMaster settled in, flipped the momentum and took the first match on a dominant fifth set, 15-8.

Sunday was exciting, as a completely different set of players took the court, featuring some young McMaster players and backups. The outcome was impressive though, as McMaster swept the Buckeyes 3-0.

Throughout this preseason refinement period, and even through the excitement and energy that was associated with a thrilling North American Challenge, coach Preston is firm in his emphasis that the U Sports season is where their focus lies.

"We have to do our student-athlete experience in our own way. I am really happy with what we are able to provide our students in terms of their volleyball experience,"

Dave Preston
Head Coach
Men's Volleyball Team

“The trip to Poland, as good as it was, and the Ohio State matches, as good as they [were], won’t be near as good as what we will experience in league play,” said Preston. “The whole purpose of all of that is to just get us ready for our league play.”

Preparatory or not, Preston will have a lot of positives to take from the North American Challenge, both on an individual and team level. On a team level, the strength and composure to battle back from down a set on Saturday night is definitely a bright spot for coach Preston.

On an individual level, the stars with third-year outside hitter, Matt Passalent, and fifth-year outside hitter, Brandon Koppers. Together they combined for 38 kills and four aces, a dominating performance from both of them on Saturday.

Asked before these matches about the individual talent on this team, coach Preston was excited about what both these players could deliver this year. Passalent is developing into the break-out player, with two seasons under his belt, and Koppers finds himself on the team’s leadership council, already actively working to create a positive and productive culture within the team room, according to coach Preston.

While there has been clear improvement from many individual players on this team, this offseason’s improvement was also supported by a few players’ involvement with varying levels of Canada’s national volleyball team.

Passalent, and second year libero Jordan Piereira spent time with the Junior National Team this summer. Koppers, on the other hand, found a role with the National B Team in a starting role. The energy of the program was also buoyed by recent graduates Jayson McCarthy and Danny Demyanenko finding positions with the National Team in different capacities.

For Preston, this success outside of McMaster just cements the message he is trying to express.

“These are great statements of what we do here, how we are built, and what our day to day delivery model is,” said Preston. “I think in the team room it really helps because the guys know that if we put in what is designed every day, those are some potential outcomes.”

Whatever the message may be, it seems to be lighting up the locker room. Coming off of Poland and a statement performance against Ohio State, energy is high even if this team looks different than last year.

“One of the beauties of collegiate sport is the cyclical nature,” said Preston. “You only got guys for five years, whether you want them for more or not, so it’s turning over. From a team perspective it is really exciting and it is really interesting to see how, even with the core guys being back, what the different chemistry and culture is on each team.”

The culture and chemistry seem to be blending in an exciting way, and this has the men’s volleyball team excited for the year ahead, which leads directly to the U Sports National Championships in our own Burridge Gym in March of next year.

For now, the team looks ahead to the upcoming Ontario University Athletics season. The first game is Oct. 27 at home against the Ryerson Rams, and judging by this past weekend, you will want to be watching.

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By: Camila Stupecka

With the summer break around the corner, students are winding down in hopes of a quick and painless exam season. This is not the case for third-year outside hitter Andrew Richards and the rest of the McMaster men’s volleyball team.

A week after Mac’s bronze medal performance at the U Sports national championships, the team is back at work preparing for a new season, getting ready to come back stronger and more polished after their summer training. With the team losing key players like Danny Demyanenko and Andrew Kocur next year, Richards and his fellow teammates have major leadership roles to fill.

“I like to think I have some leadership value on the team [too],” said Richards. “In terms of sport, we’re pretty good athletes, and [my leadership] would never come from telling people how to play a game but rather as a motivational leader. As I’m getting older, I hope I can be one of those guys that leads the team in the right direction, and I think I can do that.”

His leadership skills were even acknowledged in April of 2016, when he was one of the first students ever to receive the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award, given to those who show potential and drive for change as future leaders.

“The Wilson Award has given me the opportunity to expand my leadership potential,” said Richards. “Outside of sport this year, I was involved with Mac Athletes Care, which allows varsity athletes to connect with youth in the Hamilton Community.”

His contributions to the community don’t stop there. Richards started Suited for Success, an initiative on campus to connect the Hamilton community with access to professional attire. The campaign managed to deliver over 200 articles of clothing to those in need.

Even though he is known today for his leadership in the community and as a fierce attacker on the volleyball court, Richards started his athletic career in competitive tennis although quickly realized that volleyball was his true passion.

"I realized how important it is to cherish when you can play."
Andrew Richards
Third-year outside hitter
McMaster men's volleyball

“When I played tennis, the schedule was crazy. I spent a lot of time away from home. I wanted to be part of the youth life, [spend time] with my friends,” said Richards. “I got into volleyball because of my older brother, [who plays] for the Guelph Gryphons. When I watched him play, I thought it was the coolest thing to do. And as soon as I started playing, I didn’t regret anything at all. It became my passion.”

Richards soon made his debut in volleyball, dedicating himself to a sport that had captured his attention almost instantaneously. His dedication and skill made it possible for him to gain prominent status as a player and a leader on teams like the junior national volleyball team in Canada. Moving forward, Richards began to establish his volleyball roots at McMaster as part of the men’s volleyball team.

His passion is constantly thriving and growing. Even in the face of injury, when a stress fracture in his left tibia last season left Richards off the court from the start of the regular season until the following year.

“That was probably the hardest thing I went through,” said Richards. “I came here to play volleyball [but] I had to sit and watch because I was on crutches. [I realized] how important it is to cherish when you can play and take recovering and taking care of your body seriously.”

His volleyball career was only strengthened by this temporary delay and today Richards excels not only on the court but as a dedicated and passionate leader throughout the community.

As a player, as a leader and as a part of the McMaster and Hamilton community, Andrew Richards truly is an inspiration.

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