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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“I think it’s great here. When you’re an athlete here, you just become friends with other athletes easier. Everyone is a bit more welcoming because they understand your situation and lifestyle. It’s just fun at Mac. As the years went on, I fell more and more in love with Mac, the people here and everything it had to offer. When it comes down to it, I think it’s about whom you’re experiencing things with and not necessarily where you are. It’s about the people and I met great people at Mac.”
McMaster Women’s Volleyball
“It has been the best experience ever. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Everyone in my family went to Mac. I’m glad I went here because I knew how much everyone in my family loved it .”
McMaster Women’s Volleyball
“A Marauder is someone who competes, sacrifices and overcomes obstacles on the endless pursuit to success.”
McMaster Men’s Basketball
“Being a leader. Being a team player. Holding yourself accountable on and off the court.”
McMaster Men’s Basketball
“As a Marauder, you get out of the sport exactly what you put into it. When you are training, when you are competing, the playing field is equal. You are not judged based on the colour of your skin or the commas in your bank account and that’s what I love.”
McMaster Women’s Rugby
“I feel privileged to be at Mac and play on a team at this high-calibre level. Right when I got the offer from Mac I knew I was coming here. I went to camps here in high school and fell in love with the atmosphere. Nowhere else I looked compared to Mac. I love Mac.”
McMaster Men’s Volleyball
By: Tom Lewis
A resounding victory over local rivals Brock on Wednesday saw McMaster men’s soccer team continue their undefeated start to the 2014-15 OUA season.
The Marauders played through driving rain to complete a five-nil demolition of the St Catharines, Ont. team, drawing on a livewire performance from hat-trick hero Mark Reilly, who found himself back among the goals after a quiet start to the season.
Brock were simply outclassed at the Ron Joyce stadium, and looked off the pace as they failed to pose a concerted threat to Angelo Cavalluzzo’s goal.
Mac wasted no time stamping their authority on proceedings, with a slick exchange of passes outside the Brock box freeing Reilly to begin a dominant Marauders showing inside six minutes.
Reilly popped up again in the 28th minute, latching onto a Gersi Xhuti pass and turning his man to set up a composed finish.
The Badgers failed to register a single shot on target before the 32nd minute, as Marauders’ coach Dino Perri’s pressing tactics repeatedly frustrated the visitors.
The third goal nearly came moments later, as Nate Morris caught the Brock goalkeeper off his line with a shot that fizzed just inches wide of the right hand post.
Brock almost dragged themselves back into the match before half time, sending a looping shot onto the bar from a free kick and failing to capitalise on a misplaced Marauders’ pass at the back.
The away side began the second half brightly, swinging in several dangerous crosses, but all air of competition drained from the encounter as Mac’s Marco Gennacaro went clean through to tuck a sumptuous finish past the scrambling Brock keeper with 48 minutes played.
Brock were unable to cope with the Marauders’ attacking players as they continuously swapped positions, and their frustrations began to boil over as a Brock midfielder launched a foul mouthed tirade at number twelve Paterson Farrell for going down under a heavy challenge.
A convincing attacking performance from the Perri’s men was rounded off by two quick goals, one a penalty from Mark Reilly for his hat-trick on 88 minutes, and the other a cool 89th minute finish from Marco Gennacaro as he bagged a brace against a demotivated Brock defence.
“I feel like we finally started playing to our ability,” coach Dino Perri said after the game. “I hope that the performance will be an eye-opener for the team, having played so well in such poor conditions.”
Forward Mark Reilly said, “the hat-trick was great to get my confidence going again. We’re building our unity and starting to really come together as a team.”
On the blustery conditions, Reilly joked: “my background is Scottish, so playing in the rain was no problem for me.”
McMaster took the second game of the week over Waterloo, pouring in four goals in 15 minutes. At 3-0-2, Mac sits in fourth in the OUA West division with a game in hand over No. 1 York and No. 2 Guelph, and two games over No. 3 Western. Through five games, Mac conceded one goal and scored 13.
A key double-header this weekend at Laurier and Western will shake up the standings.