After beating the Brock Badgers twice already this season, one could anticipate that while the Marauders would be favourites ahead of their OUA semi-finals, it wouldn’t be easy.
The Marauders survived a scare against the Windsor Lancers in the quarterfinals, winning a close fifth set to prevail. Against Brock in the semis, McMaster won in three straight sets – two by the score of 25-20 and one by the score of 25-21.
The Badgers made it difficult for the home side early on, matching McMaster’s attacks while also playing stout defence with numerous important digs and blocks. The Badgers held a slim 9-8 lead after a kill by Dean Globocki as the teams traded scores back and forth. Globocki tied the game at 18 with another kill before Mac went on a 7-2 run to close out the set.
While OUA All-Stars Sam Cooper and Maxime Gratton both scored over 20 points last game, the attack was spread out among several players against Brock. Cooper (13.5 points), Gratton (11), Wojtek Kraj (13) and Mateusz Wlodarski (10) all had double digit points with Navreet Suhan not far behind with seven points. Cooper and Gratton scored consecutive points to finish the first.
The second set started the same as the first, with the Badgers countering Mac’s attacks with their own while continuing their strong defensive play. OUA West Most Valuable Player Logan House was instrumental to the Badgers’ play as he scored multiple kills throughout the set as well as digs. He would finish with five digs and a team-high 10 kills.
Despite the Badgers’ efforts to keep it close, McMaster started pulling away late in the second thanks to kills by Kraj, Wlodarski and Cooper. Wlodarski also added an ace. Meanwhile, first-year setter Robbie Fujisawa was on point in his usual role as setter. He fed his teammates crisp sets for them to hammer into the Brock end, often a clean kill down the middle.
While the Marauders have their fair share of heavy hitters, the team utilized drop shots and volleys over the net to catch the Badgers off guard. There was one by where Cooper appeared to be rising up for one of his famous powerful strikes but instead hit a light shot that just dropped over the net for the score.
The Marauders carried their sharp attack into the third set, jumping out to a 19-12 lead with the same focus and precision in their digs, sets and spikes as they had in the first two. Brock made a late push to cut the lead down to 24-20 thanks to a kill and ace by House as well as errors by McMaster. However, the comeback effort proved too late as Cooper finished off a kill that fell just over the net to capture the victory.
The Marauders were well represented when the OUA award winners and all-stars were revealed earlier in the week. They awards and all-stars were broken down by division. Cooper and team captain Jordan Pereira were named first-team all-stars while Wlodarski and Kraj were second-team all-stars. Gratton and Fujisawa earned spots on the all-rookie team with Gratton winning OUA West Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, head coach Dave Preston won OUA West Coach of the Year.
After winning six straight Forsyth Cups (OUA titles) in a row from 2013-2018, the Marauders will have a chance to reclaim the provincial crown. They take on the Toronto Varsity Blues at home in the Burridge Gymnasium on Mar. 19. Toronto is seeking their first Forsyth Cup crown since 2004. Meanwhile, the Queen’s Gaels – champions of the past two seasons – will take on the Badgers in the OUA bronze medal game for a spot at nationals.
McMaster Women Receive Accolades
In the stands cheering on the McMaster men in their OUA semi-finals was the McMaster women’s team, honoured during the game for their season as well as their individual accolades.
McMaster under long-time head coach Tim Louks was a young team this season – featuring nine first and second year players – but progressed as the season went along. Mac beating fellow playoff teams Waterloo, Windsor and Western this season. However, they lost to the Mustangs in their third meeting in the OUA quarterfinals after finishing second in the division during the regular season.
Their veteran and young players were both recognized with accolades. Team captain and fifth-year senior Jessie Nairn and first-year outside hitter Sullie Sundara were named first-team all-stars. Third-year middle Ellie Hatashita was named a second-team all-star while Sundara won OUA West Rookie of the Year and earned a spot on the OUA West all-rookie team.
The future promises to be bright for the Marauders and their mix of young and experienced players. Plus, they are hosting nationals in 2024 when Sundara, Hatashita and other key players figure to be veterans by then – and likely even better than they are now.
Featured Image: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics