Hamilton, ON- When facing adversity and mistakes, sometimes the best thing to do is to forget and move on.
That was the case for outside hitter Sullie Sundara and the McMaster women’s volleyball team in their season opener against the Lakehead Thunderwolves on Nov. 4 after their game time was pushed back three and a half hours due to Lakehead’s travel delays.
Once it started, the Marauders got going. They got out to an early lead in the first set to win it 25-11. Lakehead pushed back in the second set but McMaster finished strong to win that one 25-9. The third set was like the first as McMaster went ahead and won 25-9 to take the game three sets to nil.
Sundara credited their mental game and the hunger McMaster had to close out their season opener.
“I’m really proud of us because we faced a lot of adversity,” she noted. “I think the hardest part of the game is the mental part of it and this could have definitely gone the other way. We could have let the fatigue get to us. We could have taken all the negative parts of the game and then crumbled but we didn’t.”
Sundara played a key role in the win. She finished with a game-high 18.5 points, 14 kills, 12 digs and three aces. The following night against Lakehead, she led the team in points (18), kills (15) and digs (nine) again in their 3-0 victory.
“She’s such a good shot maker,” McMaster head coach Tim Louks said. He pointed out how she responded when “coming under fire” while receiving and attacking.
“It’s just awesome to have somebody you can really rely on and trust in the big times to get a kill or get an ace,” teammate Ellie Hatashita noted. “She’s grown a lot since her first year, just confidence-wise and everything.”
Sundara came into McMaster from Kanata in 2021. She said she didn’t know what to expect when she arrived. She had abdominal surgery that summer, which meant she couldn’t play until October. The season was also paused in the middle.
She had a standout first season, scoring 161.5 points (fourth in the OUA). She was named the OUA West Rookie of the Year and was named an OUA First-team All-Star and a member of the OUA and U SPORTS All-Rookie Team.
It was a transition for her though. Sundara mentions how she had never played in an atmosphere like the one at McMaster with the fans and the gameday environment. “I wanted to stay very calm and not get in my head because I am a very energetic person,” she said.
Before coming to McMaster, she was a very jumpy player who would get in her head a lot, according to her. At McMaster, she’s developed her mental game with a “goldfish memory.”
The crux of it is to forget about the previous error, to move onto the next play. “I’m bound to make a bunch of mistakes,” she noted. “I do get a lot of volume and everything so it’s easy for me to dwell on a mistake but I’ve worked really hard.”
Her teammates help her with that mentality. In huddles after points, they reiterate “staying steady”. It’s about staying level-headed when they’re doing well and taking a deep breath and resetting when they’re not, according to Sundara.
“The jitters don’t last as long,” Louks said of the difference between her first and second seasons. “The nerves don’t get in the way. They appear a little bit and then she knows she can work her way out of that.”
After her rookie season, she spent the summer with the Canadian U-21 national team. She faced a high level of competition there and adversity.
In her first time playing for Team Canada, she had to adjust to the new system. Being in touch with McMaster assistant coach Nathan Janzen (who was coaching the U19 team) helped. They would text every day.
After a tough tryout, she made the team and competed in the U-21 Pan American Cup in Mexico. It challenged her socially, physically and mentally. She didn’t know anyone heading in.
“I was getting in my head a lot,” Sundara recalled. “I wasn’t performing my best so I took this experience and I tested some interventions to just like keep my mental health and my mental toughness.”
She started journaling. That helped Sundara get things off her chest and go into games with a fresh attitude, according to her. It helped her focus point by point during the games.
When she competed, she found she could compete physically. The key became how she could handle the mental aspect of the game.
“What I took from that was learning how to play when there’s a lot of pressure on myself,” she added.
Back for her second season at McMaster, Sundara will be a go-to player, one of the best in the conference. “I try not to get in my head at all or be too cocky,” she said. Her team is looking to build upon a second-place finish in the OUA West in 2021-22.
Sundara has developed her skill set over time – evident against Lakehead as she made plays all over the court.
So, what’s next for her? She’s talked with her coaches about developing a higher volleyball IQ.
“It’s just seeing the game beyond the first and second person. More of like the third person,” she described. “Seeing the game at a bigger spot is what I’m working on.”
It means seeing what’s in front of her. Seeing not only where the blockers are but where the whole defence is. “That will determine my next shot,” she added.
With her mother and sister supporting her from the stands, Sundara hit those shots against Lakehead. The team celebrated their season opener at the end of a long evening. Much of the OUA season still lies ahead. More points, games, highs and lows await.
One thing seems certain: Sundara will go into it with a goldfish memory.
Featured Image: Stephen Leithwood/McMaster Athletics