By: Graham West
Returning to the U Sports National Championships, the McMaster men’s volleyball team suffered a tough loss against the second-seeded Trinity Western University Spartans in the opening round; a familiar foe ending the Marauders’ hopes at winning another national medal following last year’s bronze.
This sent the team to the consolation semifinals where they took a heartbreaking loss in a rematch of the provincial finals against the Queen’s University Gaels. Even though the outcome of the tournament did not go the Marauders’ way, they still gave it their all to finish off the season.
Going into their first game, the team knew it would be a tough road getting past Trinity Western as they’ve played before in the national tournament. The Marauders, following their Ontario University Athletics silver medal, was given a disadvantaged position as the seventh seed in the tournament, setting them up to face No. 2 Trinity.
Mac was well aware of this possibly-discouraging matchup but tried to use the familiarity with their opponent to their advantage.
“They’re obviously a very good team and they’ve had some serious success in the past,” starting outside hitter Andrew Richards said. “We’re going into this the underdogs and we’re going to take that mindset and use it to our advantage. For us we have nothing to lose and we’re just going to give it all we have.”
Ultimately this was not enough to give the maroon and grey the win, losing 3-1 to their British Columbian foes. Despite the early exit from the tournament, the week did feature a bright spot.
🏐🚹 @McMasterSports head coach Dave Preston reacts to his team loss against the @TWUSpartans // L’entraîneur de McMaster Dave Preston réagit à la défaite des siens contre Trinity Western #ChampSZN pic.twitter.com/XTwrJRexhq
— U SPORTS Volleyball (@USPORTS_VBall) March 16, 2019
Over the weekend, Richards was awarded All-Canadian Second Team honours for his contributions to the Marauders’ success on the court this year, placing in the top 10 in Canada in aces per set (0.51) while leading his team with 185 kills over the season.
Richards was also awarded the Dale Iwanoczko Award for being an outstanding student-athlete and demonstrating excellence off the court. Richards is the first Marauder to win the award since its inaugural year in 1994.
“It’s a good way to end my five-year journey at university,” Richards said. “It’s an individual award, but I really can’t take all the credit for it.”
“I’ve had some amazing mentors and leaders in my life that have always challenged me to do that, so without them I really would have never been recognized for something like this.” Richards added.
Richards’ mindset going into nationals was the same one which has made him such a great player in the first place: a mindset predicated on fierce competitiveness, mutual respect from his teammates and a genuine love of the game. This was Richards’ last chance at competing for a national championship and he took the opportunity just like he takes all of his games.
“I was talking to one of my coaches today, and he wanted me to sit down and think about once I’m done from Mac, in a couple of years, how do I want to think back and remember these last couple of days,” Richards said. “For me, I want to look back and know that I enjoyed my last matches and competed hard and that I was a good teammate and regardless of the outcome.”
This year marks the last year Richards will be wearing maroon for the men's volleyball team as his years of eligibility run out. While the team’s finish at nationals may not have been ideal, they still left their all on the court. Richards, and the teams he has been a part of, have left behind a tremendous legacy of numerous records, medals and trophies, and is one that will surely not be forgotten.
For the first time ever, the McMaster women’s basketball team have brought the Bronze Baby home.
It has been a long time coming for Burns, but so worth the wait. The head coach has been with the Marauders for the last 29 years and has yet to win it all like she did this past weekend.
Ending the regular season 21-3, the Marauders turned up the intensity and remained undefeated in the postseason. For Burns, competing and winning at this level was something the team knew they could do from before the season even started.
"We believed we could do it. It's been the mindset all year,” said Burns. “Then, as the year went on and we continued to build, we got better as it went."
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="254" gal_title="Womens Basketball National Championship"]
The U Sports women’s basketball Final 8 festivities kicked off with the annual All-Canadian gala. McMaster veteran Hilary Hanaka made Mac proud, taking home the Sylvia Sweeney Award for Student-Athlete Community Service for her outstanding contributions both on and off the court.
Hanaka is well known for her leadership on the court, but off the court, her work with McMaster Athletes Care, Varsity Leadership Council, McMaster Women’s Athletic Leadership Council, Neighbourhood Hoops Program, Flamborough Fire basketball and St. Mary’s Catholic High School, all contributed in her earning the honour. The All-Canadian was also named a U Sports Second Team All-Star that night.
With the awards wrapped up, the Marauders hit the court for the first game of the tournament, a quarter-final matchup against the Concordia University Stingers. Mac superstar Sarah Gates put up a career high of 32 points and the Marauders took down the Stingers in a dominant 86-68 victory.
Next, McMaster faced the third-ranked University of Saskatchewan Huskies, advancing to the final game with a 73-66 win. When Laval defeated the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 60-56 in their own semifinal game, the stage for finals was set.
— U SPORTS Basketball (@USPORTS_Bball) March 9, 2019
Heading into nationals, the Rouge et Or were ranked number one due to their nearly perfect season, with only one loss to McGill University, while the Marauders ranked second. With the story of Laval’s Khaléann Caron-Goudreau’s journey airing on Sportsnet’s pregame, it was very clear who the favourite was perceived to be. Yet, quickly after the whistle blew, it was obvious that the Marauders were not ready to go home without what they came for.
The first quarter was low scoring, as not only were both the Marauders and the Rouge et Or playing strong defense, but they also struggled to hit wide-open shots. By the end of the first quarter, Mac was up 11-10, but that was the last time that they would lead the game until the third quarter.
Sarah-Jane Marois of Laval got hot in the second quarter, finding and making shots to help Laval lead at the half, contributing 13 points in the quarter. The impact of Marois’ ability to hit shots that both teams struggled with earlier made the Marauders head into the half down 27-33.
“The game plan is to always be as tough as we can be defensively, stay positive, and no matter what happens, you just keep picking each other up and good things will happen,” Burns said. “They’re just so resilient. We’re playing a good team, we’re playing No.1 in the country, so they’re going to get their runs, they’re going to score. But when we bent we didn’t break.”
The thing about bending is that there is always a snapback, and snapback they did. Coming into the third regrouped and focused, the Marauders began to play at a different level. Linnaea Harper started off the third quarter strong with a three, followed by a Gates’ layup that helped the Marauders cut the lead to 33-32 in the first minute.
Mac led again for the first time since the first in the third quarter, thanks to consistency from Gates, Harper, Hanaka and most importantly, Christina Buttenham. Buttenham, who went on to be named the player of the game, contributed both offensively and defensively for the team throughout the entire matchup. Buttenham had 13 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks that left her grinning from ear to ear.
Ensuring the Marauders would not fall behind again, Buttenham not only stole the ball but scored off a rebound, helping the Marauders go into the fourth 44-44. Starting the fourth from the free-throw line, the Marauders led throughout. But it was the laugh from regularly composed head coach Burns after Harper’s off-balance shot gave Mac a 10-point lead that made the Marauders and fans watching know that they had sealed the deal.
Not only did the women’s team make Marauder history, they finally were able to give Burns the one thing she has been chasing for 29 years.
“To be able to do this after five years, in my last year is so amazing,” said Harper, the tournament’s most valuable player. “This also means the world to [coach Burns] she’s been doing this for 25-plus years, and to finally make it to the National Championship and win, we’re so happy to do this for her.”
Harper and Gates both contributed 18 points while the eldest Hanaka brought in 12. Laval may have had the U Sports Player of the Year Marois on their side, but the Marauders beat the odds and reminded us exactly what hard work can do.
Women’s Final 8️⃣: @McMasterSports ⛹️♀️ wins their first 🏆 title 🥳
Le 8️⃣ Ultime ⛹️♀️ : Premier titre national pour les Marauders de McMaster 👏
— U SPORTS (@USPORTSca) March 11, 2019