Photo by Kyle West

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.

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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.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Graham West

Heading out to Kingston for this year’s provincial playoffs, Andrew Richards and the McMaster men’s volleyball team went up against the University of Windsor for their 15th-straight provincial semifinal appearance, and won, advancing to the finals.

Unfortunately, their championship bid ultimately fell short, suffering a heartbreaking loss to the hosting Queen’s University Gaels. Although the men’s six-year dynasty was broken, getting to the finals means they also have a spot in the national championship tournament, where they have another chance to go on the court and show everyone why they deserve to be there.

As regular members of the Ontario University Athletics Final Four under head coach Dave Preston for almost two decades, the team has certainly solidified a strong culture of winning.  Although, even with prolific numbers and success, Richards says this doesn’t play into their mindset, and that they choose to look at the season on a game-by-game basis.

“Whether it’s a lot of times hosting in a row, or a lot of times being in the Final Four in a row, I think our program does a really good job of not thinking about that too much,” Richards said. “We don't get too far into that because at the end of the day, it doesn’t help us perform on the court. The group this year is really tight and we’re really good at understanding that when we’re on the floor, all that matters is how we can help each other, compete hard and enjoy ourselves.”

 

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The love of the game is one of the biggest factors for the team’s prolific success. Even so much as just being on the court means a lot to Richards and his teammates, making them fierce competitors as not many teams can match their passion.

“I think we’re lucky as student-athletes to even be able to play volleyball for McMaster,” Richards said. “So for us, we’re just thankful to play and have fun, and I know our hard work and all of our training throughout the year will help us get to where we need to go.”

Even though the team did ultimately lose in the finals, it’s only a roadblock on their way to taking on nationals, which has been a big focus for the team all year.

“I’ve found over my four years that the next two weeks happen really fast, so I think it’s easiest to break it up and take it game by game and enjoy things while you can,” Richards said. “Our team has higher goals than just provincials, so for us, it’s going to be crucial to refocus after every match.”

 

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Richards emphasized the role that team chemistry plays in the success of the team, especially when it comes to being able to pick each other up when things are down. This is mostly due to the fact that the team is so close and knows each other so well. This is a key reason why they are such a tough group to get through for any competitor.

“Over my years here at Mac, we’re one of the tighter teams,” Richards said. “It’s easy for teams to play well and feel good about themselves when things are going well on the court and you’re winning, but I think when it really comes in handy to have a tight team and work through things together is when things aren’t going well.”

By earning a spot in the provincial finals, the Marauders have also clinched a place at the national championships. The men’s volleyball team will be one to watch during the national championships as they look to make a huge statement after provincials and certainly have the potential to take home the national gold.

On March 15 at 6:00 p.m., the No. 7 Marauders will take on the No. 2 Trinity Western University Spartans to kick-off the U Sports Final Eight. The Spartans are also coming off a provincial silver medal, losing to No. 1 Brandon University in the Canada West Championship.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

After falling to the Queen’s University Gaels for the Ontario University Athletics Forsyth Cup, the McMaster men’s volleyball team are headed to the U Sports Men’s Volleyball Championships, but not exactly where they would like to be.

For the first time in seven years, the Marauders are heading to nationals, not as OUA champions. Although surely grateful that they still get to compete at the national level, the disappointment is still there. After a change in OUA men’s volleyball structure, the men’s team had to play their final game on the Gaels’ home court, despite being the number one seed.

The close matchup saw the Marauders and Gaels play five sets. After ending the first set 19-25, the Marauders bounced back strong, winning the second and third set 25-19 and 25-23, respectively. Unfortunately, the Gaels were in the comfort of their own home and were able to outscore the Marauders in both the fourth and fifth set, 16-25 and 13-15.

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This result landed the Marauders ranked seventh place going into nationals in Quebec City this weekend. Not only is this McMaster's lowest seed at the national tournament since Mac hosted in 2007, but their first opponents are also their longtime rivals, British Columbia’s Trinity Western University Spartans.

The number two seeded team has faced Mac several times in the national playoffs, and for the last four years, they have outplayed Mac. For First Team All-Star left side Andrew Richards, this is the last Canadian university volleyball championships he will ever play in. So hopefully the Marauders will be able to shake the curse and come out victorious against the Spartans.

First serve is scheduled for this Friday at 6:00 p.m.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

After a slow start to the season, the women’s volleyball team is rolling and looking to lock up a spot in the playoffs. Their slow start can be attributed to the major shift in the roster, with many upper-year players graduating, but the newer players are filling in admirably and the roster is loaded with potential.

They’ve won four out of their last five games, which is in large part due to a few players stepping up their play. Most notably, right side Jessie Nairn’s recent play earned her the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week for leading the team in points and kills over their weekend trip to Thunder Bay.

Stuffing the stat sheet in all facets of the game, Nairn’s 13 kills in the team’s Jan. 27 win over Lakehead University is a perfect example of what she brings to the rotation.

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The Marauders are back on track as they are riding a string of good games, with their only loss in the past five games coming from the undefeated and first in the division University of Waterloo Warriors.

“Even though we lost against Waterloo, we played a really good game against them,” Nairn said. “And if we play the way we did, we can definitely beat, if not at least play a really good game against, all of the teams coming up in the next couple of weeks.”

Nairn says the team is still in the process of finding its identity after losing so many of its veteran players. However, their development over the course of the season thus far is why they’ve been on a hot streak lately, which should easily transfer to next season.

“After losing a really big graduating class last year, I’d say that our skills aren’t really spread out yet and we haven’t found out what our strengths are, so we’re slowly starting to get to that point,” Nairn said. “Although we’re a really big blocking team and we’re definitely one of the best blocking teams in the league, we’re definitely a big offensive team. Where we struggle is starting the offence, so passing and stuff like that, but when we have that done, it’s when we’re at our best.”.

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It’s been a tough transition going from losing only five regular season games over the past two seasons to having lost six already this season, but Nairn is confident the team can close out the season successfully.

The roster is filled with talent and potential but is lacking experience. With that being said, it hasn’t stopped the team from remaining in playoff contention despite the roster’s youthfulness.

“In the past years, we’ve only lost two or three games. So for my first two years, it was a big deal losing,” Nairn said on the team’s recent struggles. “Learning to lose, and then learning to learn from that, knowing that it’s going to be ok and that we are good enough to win and win the whole league — we just need to have the mentality to get there because we don’t know how to deal with losing yet, but we're getting there.”

Nairn believes the team still has the capability of going far in the postseason and they still have their sights set on a trip to nationals.

“Our goal is definitely still to win, even though our path to get there is looking a little rocky,” Nairn said. “We’ve played really good games against some of the teams that are definitely going to be in the final four this year. For instance, our very first game this season where we were nowhere near as good as we are now, we went to five sets with [the University of] Toronto and they’re looking like a team that will  definitely be in the final four.”

The women’s volleyball team has had it’s fair share of struggles so far this season but they are a bright young team, with a roster full of talented players and greatness on the horizon.

 

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