It was 75 days, to be exact, since the McMaster Marauder volleyball teams last played. On Nov. 27, 2021 the Marauder women bested the Waterloo Warriors three sets to two while the men swept the Warriors 3-0.
On February 10, 2022, McMaster returned to the Burridge Gym, and the results were the same. Both teams beat the Western Mustangs three sets to nil. The familiar surroundings were back, fans were in the stands as the players competed on the court and coaches Tim Louks (women) and Dave Preston (men) paced the sidelines.
Marauder women continue winning streak
The women jumped out to an early lead against Western, which helped them win the first set 25-16. Team captain and fifth-year senior Jessie Nairn set the tone early with an early kill and another point to extend the lead to 9-4, leading Western to call a timeout. The Marauders were able to help force some Western balls out of bounds and made some key blocks.
Others joined Nairn in making their contributions. Emma McKinnon, Paige Entwistle, Ana Strbac and others also chipped in their scoring. McKinnon finished a kill to make it 24-16 before a Western service error clinched the set.
The second and third sets would be a lot closer, with neither team able to pull away with a substantial lead. As the second set went deeper and deeper, Nairn and her teammates continued to make critical plays as the second set went on, with a kill by Ellie Hatashita giving them a 28-27 lead before an attack error by Western’s Jaeya Branch finished the set.
The third set was just as close as the second, with the Mustangs keeping the hopes of staying in the game alive with crucial points. The Mustangs held a 21-19 lead before the Marauders came back to tie it at 23 thanks to points by a kill by Strbac and back-to-back kills by McKinnon. Sullie Sundara and McKinnon scored points before an attack error by Western’s Janelle Albert secured the victory for the home side.
The team mobbed each other in a brief celebration after that final point before saluting the crowd. The team now sits in third place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West Division, right in the middle of the playoff picture. The top five seeded teams from each division make the postseason.
However, even a month ago, it wasn’t a certainty the Marauders would be able to return. The OUA had cancelled the competition until late January. The league wasn’t on the list of “elite amateur sports” deemed by the Ontario government, which delayed its return to training until the end of January. Numerous athletes, coaches and school administrators voiced their frustration and confusion about being left off the government’s elite amateur sports list.
McKinnon was one of them, as she told the CBC: “The amount of time and training we put into our sport … I just want to know why we weren’t considered elite.”
A member of Canada’s junior national team who chose McMaster despite NCAA interest, she and many other athletes made their case for fitting the definition of “elite.” She continued to work out every day and did online training during the break. She led the team with 11 kills and 11 digs in her return to action.
Men stay undefeated atop OUA West
The McMaster men kept their winning run alive since the break as they extended their lead atop the OUA West division to four points (over second-place Brock) with six wins out of six.
The Western game began as others had before, with McMaster out to a quick lead and out on the attack. The Marauders set up and finished off kills time and time again. The home team led the visitors in kills (39-19) and assists (38-18)
The game was close in the first stages, with the Mustangs trailing 5-6 after a kill by Western’s Amit Sayal. However, the Marauders reeled off a run to push the score to 20-11 with numerous kills by Sam Cooper and Mateusz Wlodarski. First-year Brendan Mills also contributed with a couple of kills to end the first set.
The second set was similar to the first, with McMaster jumping out to an early lead, spiking the ball into the Western end. The Marauders also notched some service aces to close out the set. Second-year outside hitter Peter Rugosi had two aces in a row, while Cooper had two straight aces to win the set. Serving was another strong point for McMaster as they scored 11 services aces to the Mustangs none.
The Mustangs fell behind early in the third set before battling back to complete the comeback. Sayal and Jason Guy scored multiple kills to keep the deficit around 5-6 points in the middle of the set before McMaster pulled away with kills by Tyler Pavelic, Navreet Suhan, Rugosi, Cooper and Mills.
First-year Robbie Fujisawa played an essential role as the setter, with a team-high 36 assists (out of 38) and two blocks. He helped set his teammates up for their attacks and points.
The Marauders now travel to London to a rematch with the Mustangs on Feb. 12. It is part of a shortened, condensed schedule in their path to the OUA playoffs and U Sports nationals as the national date remaisn the same as before – Mar. 25-27.
Featured Image: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics