Hamilton, ON- As the McMaster Marauders defeated the Queen’s Gaels on Dec. 2 and 3. to close out the first half of the OUA regular season, it was about serving and execution.
The Marauders enters the winter break with a 10-0 conference record and a number two ranking in the U SPORTS Top 10. To get there, they battled the nationally-ranked Gaels at home.
In the first game, it was a story of serving well from start to end. The Marauders won three sets to none. Just last week, McMaster head coach Dave Preston mentioned how difficult it is to beat a great team in three sets. The Marauders had now done so.
Preston pointed to their serving pressure. McMaster had seven serving aces and put pressure on Queen’s through their serves.
“I was really really pleased with how the boys focused in on the baseline and set the tone,” Preston said.
That serving success comes from repetition in training. The day before the first Queen’s games, Preston saw how dialed in the players were in practice.
“I even told them at the end of practice, this might be the best that we’ve been, yesterday in training that we trained all week,” he noted.
The team has different serving strategies based on each player’s strengths, according to outside hitter Mateusz Wlodarski.
“Our guys who like hit targets mostly did a really good job of keeping the ball on our targets all night long,” he added. “Our guys who have license to go out a little bit harder from the baseline did that really well and were tugging on the ball really good.”
After dropping the third set in each of their two wins against Nipissing, the Marauders focused on keeping their foot on the gas to close out Queen’s. Wlodarski pointed out how they knew Queen’s was going to push hard after falling behind two sets.
“So we can’t let off at all,” he said. “We actually need to push back harder against them and I think today we did a really good job of that.”
The following evening, the game went five sets – as their matches against Queen’s usually do, Preston pointed out. McMaster beat Queen’s 3-2 in the preseason.
The Gaels pulled out a close 25-23 set one victory. The Marauders returned the favour by edging the visitors 30-28 in the second set. McMaster won the third set 25-19 before Queen’s won the fourth one 25-22.
Then, in the fifth and deciding set, McMaster went out to a quick 7-1 lead before winning it 15-10. The good start contrasted with them coming out slower in the first four sets.
Perhaps part of that was adjusting to Queen’s adjustments from the first game. The Gaels switched Zigurds Licis to the opposite side and moved some other players around, which caused McMaster some problems.
McMaster played from behind at times – which Preston called exhausting physically and emotionally. “If you’re going to have a good start, the fifth set’s a pretty good set to do it because it’s a sprint to 15,” he noted.
During timeouts and in between the sets, the coaches would constantly remind the players of the game plan and their assignments.
Outside hitter Peter Rugosi said serving well is the most important factor to starting sets well. “Purely because that serve dictates whether they can run their full offence, half their offence or only one option,” he said.
Rugosi referenced how their strong serving made a difference to start the fifth set. Middle Wojciech Kraj served three straight times as the Marauders went up 4-0. “Got them out of system a lot of the time, which allowed us to capitalize on their one hitter or two hitters that were only available to swing instead of their full offence,” Rugosi said.
Rugosi and his brother Matthew both had strong performances as well. Peter tied Maxime Gratton for a team-high 12 kills. Matthew, a libero, had a team-high 13 digs. Both were also career-highs for them.
Preston pointed out how Peter “did a heck of a job coming into the and kind of stablilizing our reception and getting some really key kills down the stretch.”
After Matthew had six digs in their first game, Preston told him he could have had nine and challenged him to get more.
“In the warm up, I kind of flashed him a little nine and he’s like ‘I got this’,” Preston recalled. “Not only did he get his nine, he got four more just to rub it in my face.”
Peter said Matthew showed in the second game against Queen’s what he’s fully capable of. Matthew spent all day looking at film preparing for the game.
“When it came down the stretch, Matthew knew where you had to be, he knew exactly the angle that he needed,” Peter said. “He just got dig after dig after dig and that helped us immensely.”
Another factor contributed to them closing out the fifth set: a killer mentality, according to Gratton. “It’s do or die, we just go,” he added.
The Marauders have been successful throughout the season in closing out games.
Gratton said the team comes into the game with a lot of tactical knowledge. They start the game leveled as they assess how their opponents are playing. They then respond and make adjustments as the game goes on. By the fifth set, they know all the adjustments and the game plan.
“By then, it really just gaming,” Gratton said. “It’s just showing up and doing what we’ve got to do to win…it’s just having that killer mentality.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics