The Burridge Gym was packed and noisy for the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) volleyball quarterfinals on Mar. 12. The gym was as full as it has been all season long as the hometown Marauders looked to advance to the semifinals.
In the end – after five plus hours – the Marauder women fell just short in five sets to the Western Mustangs while the Marauder men prevailed in five sets over the Windsor Lancers.
Women See Lead Slip Away in Season Finale
The McMaster women’s team had come into the playoffs strong, winning five of their seven games since the season restarted. Their strong second half earned them the second seed in the OUA West. Among those wins, including two over the third-place Western Mustangs: 3-0 at home on Feb. 10 and 3-1 on the road on Feb. 12.
The script seemed to continue as Mac came out strong, taking an early lead with attacks from numerous players. Most notable was captain Jessie Nairn and outside hitter Sullie Sundara; Sundara finished the game with 20 kills and 24 points, while Nairn had 14 kills and 17 points. The duo finished off numerous points, with Nairn on the right side and Sundara on the left.
First-year Emma McKinnon also got in on the attack with some kills and service aces as McMaster took the first set 25-23.
One of Western’s standout players was Jaeya Brach, as she scored multiple kills in the second set. The set was a close one, just like the first. After falling behind 18-16, the home team went on a run thanks to a kill by Nairn and some errors by Western to go up 22-19. However, they couldn’t finish it off as they committed some mistakes of their own. Western’s Kate Van Camp finished off the set with a kill.
The third set was arguably McMaster’s best of the evening as they jumped out to a notable advantage and never looked back, winning 25-11. It was a multi-faceted attack with Nairn, McKinnon, Ana Strbac and others in on the action. A kill by Paige Entwistle and an ace by Nairn gave them a 2-1 set lead.
However, as they had done previously, the Mustangs responded well with their season on the line. They were accurate with their attacks as they came out to a quick 7-1 lead in the fourth set, setting the tone for the rest of the match. While McMaster fought back to make it close, they couldn’t pull ahead. Brach, Lexi Iggulden and Kate Van Camp scored important points to push the game to a fifth set.
The Mustangs’ momentum from the fourth set carried into the fifth as they slowly widened their lead over McMaster. Fourth-year outside hitter Janelle Albert was instrumental down the stretch, with three straight kills to give her team a 14-11 lead. She served for match point as a bad set by McMaster’s Christina Stratford gave the Mustangs the victory.
The Mustangs players mobbed each other in the court afterwards in celebration while both teams saluted the fans. Western will take on Brock in the semifinals on Mar. 16 while the Marauders season comes to an end.
Men Survive Scare versus Windsor
By looking at the past results this season, one could have seen this coming. The Marauders have been dominant in clinching a perfect record in the regular season. However, the team that has given them the most trouble has been Windsor.
The Lancers are the only team to take them to five sets, which they did earlier in the season on Nov. 6, before falling 3-2. They also are the only team to win a set at the Burridge Gym, which they did this past Saturday in their regular-season finale before falling 3-1.
Yet, things looked different in their playoff matchup – at least early on. McMaster started with an intense attack – 10 kills in the first set. Maxime Gratton impacted early with his attacks (which continued throughout the match) while the Lancers committed several errors. Gratton, Sam Cooper and Navreet Suhan scored late to take the set 25-13.
The Marauders attack was led by Gratton (20.5 points) and Cooper (23.5), while Mateusz Wlodarski (13.5), Suhan (13) and Wojtek Kraj (8.5) provided support. Libero and team captain Jordan Pereira saved numerous balls in long rallies, finishing with two assists and a team-high ten digs.
Starting in the second set, the Lancers showed their ability to play McMaster tough. They cut down on the errors and went on the offensive with numerous players. Gustavo Siqueira (14), Luca Nastase (13), Dami Alalade (12) all finished with double-digit points, while Sean Spencer had 9.
Siqueira led the way with 11 kills on the match as he scored a crucial one to put his team up 23-22 in the second. Cooper’s attack and service errors evened the game at one set apiece.
The third set started close, with neither side able to pull away until McMaster made their push. A combination of Lancer errors and attacks by Cooper and Gratton gave the home team a 6-7 point lead late in the set as they won it 25-18.
The fourth set was similar to the third – the score deadlocked for the first half. However, the Lancers would pull away in that one. Spencer had back-to-back kills while Siqueira and Nastase also scored to push the game to a fifth set.
The back-and-forth affair continued in the final set, in which both teams traded attacks, blocks and points. McMaster went out to an 8-5 lead thanks to Cooper and setter Robbie Fujisawa (who led the team with 47 assists in his first OUA playoff game). Windsor battled back with kills by Siqueira and Anthony DeGirolamo before two straight errors by Cooper to cut the lead down to 9-8.
Windsor’s late errors cost them as Mac pulled away for the win – punctuated by back-to-back kills by Cooper to win the set 15-11 and the game 3-2. The Marauders celebrated on the court with a team dance before both sides saluted the crowd, which gave them a standing ovation in return.
The nationally second-ranked Marauders had survived their toughest test to date and now take on the Brock Badgers on Mar. 16 in the semifinals. More tough tests could be ahead of them in the OUA playoffs and possibly nationals.
Featured Photo: Jessie Nairn (Colin Wouda/McMaster Athletics)