Hamilton, ON – Nearly two years since their last game in the Burridge Gymnasium, the McMaster women’s volleyball team finally played a regular-season game at home on Nov. 21. This time, while long-time head coach Tim Louks (in his 33rd season as head coach) was once again behind the bench, there were plenty of new faces joining him as well.
Facing off against the Brock Badgers in the second half of a home-and-home series – in front of fans cheering them on – the Marauders fell three sets to zero.
Coming off a two-game winning start to the season on the road against Lakehead, where they didn’t drop a set, McMaster faced a more challenging test against the nationally-ranked Badgers. Having dropped the first game of their home-and-home 3-1 to Brock on Nov. 19, the Marauders had a strong start on Sunday at home with a 17-9 lead in the first set thanks to a kill by first-year Sullie Sundara and a block by Ana Strbac as well as points by others.
However, Brock would come roaring back in that set to take it 25-22. While the Marauders kept it close in sets two and three, they would fall just short again (25-20 in the second set and 25-21 in the third set).
“It simply boils down to a very simple part of the volleyball equation,” Louks said. “If you’re not receiving as part of that serve-receive concept, you’re not receiving against a very good team – and I would categorize Brock to be that for us for sure – you’re going to put yourself in tough situations.”
The Badgers outpaced the Marauders in numerous categories, including points (57-42), kills (42-33), aces (8-3) and assists (7-4) as they took critical points and stemmed the Marauders’ momentum in trying to pull ahead during the match.
While Brock was undefeated and ranked sixth in the nation heading into the game, the Marauders squad boosts several young players. Louks noted the youth of the group showed in the game. “A lot of our athletes right now haven’t played enough, haven’t put enough volume in, side by side [with] each other,” he said.
The back-to-backs serve as a benefit in the team’s learning process, as Louks pointed out, by providing a chance to evaluate your previous performance against the same team. The coach said the first-year players did well in making subtle adjustments from the last game, including serving.
“How is that going X number of hours from now,” Louks added. “Ideally not too long where we go, hey that sort of synergy is starting to show. There’s not a lot of hesitation on who has what and things like that. I thought they did okay. The scoreboard didn’t show us well.”
The Marauders had their moments, playing cohesively, making blocks, creating spikes and points and saving plays with crucial digs and assists. They kept it tight with the Badgers in all three sets.
“It just comes down to moments when we had leads two or three times,” Louks said. “Sustaining that energy is going to be the learn part of it. I thought that was okay. We’ll see. We won’t know until you get a chance to see us next week.”
The team had balanced contributions from many players. First-year Emma McKinnon notched eight kills while fifth-year Jessie Nairn led the team with nine. Nikolina Malic and Sarah Langer-Clark topped the squad with 12 and nine assists, respectively, while libero Hayley Brookes (also a first-year athlete) had a team-high nine digs. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Sundara had a solid all-around showing, including six kills and eight digs.
According to Louks, Nairn, the only fifth-year on the team, had an improved performance from their game at Brock. “As a senior leader, she responded very quickly,” he noted. “The first-year kids are responding a little slower, but I don’t see it going anywhere other than up.”
The two games against the Badgers – the first of many against tough, nationally-ranked opponents in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West Division – offered valuable lessons for Louks and his team going forward.
“I think the biggest thing is determination will always out-trump doubt if you can manage it with persistence,” Louks said. “So, that’s what we’ll see tomorrow when we get to the training environment.”
“We talk about investment. How many are still all in? I don’t think I’m going to see any swaying of any of that,” Louks continued. “This is anticipated in what I’m about to walk into tomorrow…I have confidence we will see not a misstep but a bigger desire to now because they don’t have to learn anything. They have to refine parts that they come in with.”
The Marauders will have “ample opportunity” (as Louks calls it) to play against the best and be tested, to refine their performance, to continue that determination and persistence. The next game is against the nationally-ranked Waterloo Warriors on Nov. 27.
“It’s exciting, and I think they [the players] feel the same way,” Louks added. “The bumps in the road are going to happen along this path. As long as we keep that perspective, I think we’ll be okay.”
Featured Photo: Jay Barlett/McMaster Athletics