With several coaching vacancies filled, let’s look at McMaster’s newest coaches
By Alyssa Wheeler, Sports Staff Writer
With the fall semester quickly approaching, McMaster University fall sports teams have also begun preparations for the upcoming season. Soccer, football, cross country, field hockey and lacrosse are amongst the many sports beginning this fall season.
Many teams this past offseason found themselves experiencing change, as a few teams have brought in some new faces to their coaching staff.
The men’s soccer team welcomed Chris Markou as its new head coach this year. Previously Markou served as the assistant coach for the team, alongside the former long-time head coach, Dino Perry. He also played for the team during his time in university, earning himself a spot in McMaster’s Hall of Fame.
"Last season I wanted to bring some value to the existing coaching staff regarding player development and bringing a winning team-first mentality through my own McMaster soccer experiences," explained Markou.
In his former role under Perri, Markou worked on player development. With this background and mentality in mind, he has begun to implement those goals with his current squad. It’s important to Markou to create a strong team which competes for major titles this year.
Going forward, Markou wants to build an improved culture of McMaster soccer. He also highlights the impact of his younger players in building this culture and hopes to contribute to this culture as well.
"I'm focused on creating a positive soccer culture and enhancing the student athlete experience. I have made some very difficult decisions lately, but I also believe I've made some very good decisions for our team and program going forward," explained Markou.
The men’s soccer team is looking to improve on the previous season’s results, which saw them lose in the first round of playoffs to the Carleton Ravens. With a few new recruits and a new head coach the men's team is certainly one to keep an eye on.
The women’s rugby team has also welcomed a new head coach with the arrival of Chris Jones. His arrival has been praised by the associate director of high-performance sport, Keenan Jeppsen. These praises include being a coach who looks to develop players, while taking an all-angles approach to building a formidable team.
With the team losing several key players due to graduation, Jones is looking to fill those vacancies and build an even stronger team. Like the men’s soccer team, they are also looking to improve upon last season’s results, in which they lost in the first round of playoffs to the Guelph Gryphons. With a new attitude, led by Jones’ upbeat personality and holistic coaching nature, the women’s rugby team should be another exciting team to watch this coming season.
The women’s basketball team is off to a red-hot start this season. Currently ranked fifth in the country, the Marauders have been spreading the ball effectively all season, averaging an Ontario University Athletics-leading 19.2 assists per game, allowing several players to contribute to the team’s 7-2 record.
Two of the team’s biggest contributors this season are second-year guard Sarah Gates and fifth-year forward Linnaea Harper, who sit first and second respectively in points and three pointers made per game for the Marauders.
“It's been a good start. We have a lot of good moving pieces coming into this season,” said Harper. “We're a very fast team and that really helps with our game…We're really excited this year.”
The stat sheet reinforces this good start. Harper started off the season with a bang with the venerated forward posting a her second double-double in three games, with 26 points on 11 of 19 shooting and 10 rebounds in their win over Brock University. Adding two more double-doubles to her total, Harper finds herself in the top 10 of the province in points per game (14.6), rebounds per game (8.0) and assists (3.8).
Not only leading on the stat sheet, Harper is one of the key veteran leaders on the Marauders this season in her fifth year with the team, which she credits to her experience and having strong teammates supporting her.
“I think I'm a calming presence on the floor,” Harper said. “Being in my fifth year, I'm kind of seen as more of a leader and that's the role that my coach wants me to play. In terms of offensive and defensive communication, and having a strong presence, I think that's that's how I really fit into that. I might no be the top scorer every game, but I'm definitely contributing in other ways and helping out others to contribute as well.”
Gates has been contributing consistently as well, having some hot games in her own right. Notably, Gates caught fire against Nipissing University, shooting six of eight from beyond the arc on her way to 24 points. That game was the first of three straight 24 point games for Gates, who shot 50% from three over that stretch.
Gates spends a lot of time working on her shot, practicing at least three times a week on her own in addition to team practices. Obviously that work has paid off, especially thanks to support from head coach Theresa Burns.
“My coach has never told me not to shoot, which I kind of need,” said Gates. “Sometimes I shoot when I probably shouldn't shoot it, but I think that positive encouragement has just led me to becoming more like a confident player on the court, and knowing I can shoot with a defender on me, or from far back or driving.”
This past weekend, the Mac women faced a tough test against the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, two of Canada’s top teams.
“They're very strong teams and have had a lot of success this year already, just like us,” Gates said before the games. “So I think that coming into this December break, we need to really dig in and just try to get a full 40 minute game together, and just keep playing because these teams won't give up.”
Harper and Gates faired well over the weekend, with Harper accounting for 24 points, six rebounds, six assists and three blocks, while Gates added 22 points and 17 rebounds herself. The team managed to leave the nation’s capital with a loss and an impressive win. Harper knows that there will still be many more challenges for the team ahead.
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“As a top-ranked team, you always have a target on your back,” Harper said. “I think just maintaining our poise, and knowing that we can control games is going to be our biggest thing, and hope that will help us out with getting those wins and moving forward.”
It is evident that the basketball team features an incredibly balanced roster, with every player adding to the box score, any one able to catch fire at any time. That is where their success derives from. With their sights set on returning to the national tournament this season, players like Harper and Gates will need to continue to produce to make that dream a reality.