Hamilton, ON- There were moments of adversity for the McMaster Marauders women’s volleyball team during their two home games against the Queen’s Gaels on Dec. 2 and 3. Moments that required a response.
They went to five sets both times – prevailing both times as well. However, there were moments. Errors, points lost, deficits faced. They were missing players on the court and those were on weren’t fully healthy either.
And yet, the Marauders prevailed. What’s behind it?
“What five sets and those hard fights allow us to learn that there’s resilience,” Marauders head coach Tim Louks said. “When we get right in the meat of the matter and just compete in sport and the girls realize they can respond, it’s pretty cool.”
The Marauders traded sets back and forth with the Gaels in the first game. McMaster would go up and Queen’s would respond. Many of the sets were close as well. The home team won the final set 15-12.
The following evening, McMaster fell into a two-set hole after having opportunities to win both sets. They responded yet again by winning three straight sets.
In all of Louks’ experience – in his years as a McMaster athlete and in his 33 seasons as the women’s team’s head coach – he knows the feeling and the benefit of that resilience.
“In my opinion, a whole belief and there’s nothing better than if you’re successful in a win-loss scenario” Louks said. “So if you’ve demonstrated that and you win, there’s nothing like it. It just catapults you to another level. But the first part is you know you have it. Come on, we can do this and that rally to a team behaviour.”
That resilience is developed through experience. The Marauders went five sets against Western in November – winning that game as well.
“It can be learned, encouraged and you can dig down deep and know, hey that five setter against Western, that five setter against Queen’s, we’ve been here before,” Louks noted.
The team has now been there multiple times. When facing those crucial sets, it also comes down to want and desire as well, according to libero Christina Stratford.
Against Western – the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year – the Marauders won the first two sets before dropping the next two. They took the final one 15-12. “We knew we wanted it,” Stratford said. “We wanted redemption from last year.”
Against Queen’s on Friday, the team was missing a few players – including outside hitter Abby Delamere. Facing a deep Gaels’ team, their energy fuels that want, execution and resilience. Stratford called them a “big energy team.”
The energy comes from the crowd, the players on the bench and the players on the court. Stratford also provides that energy with her emphatic celebrations after big points.
The third-year Burlington native calls herself a quiet person off the court but an energizer bunny on the court. Her energy is subconscious as much as anything.
“I don’t even remember doing the celebrations half the time or what I say after we get a big point,” she said. “Very much just spur of the moment.”
Stratford, her teammates and coaches and those in the crowd at the Burridge Gym celebrated those points and those moments.
Their work between games leads into that. Stratford said resilience and perseverance are their main words as a team this year. They pride themselves on not giving up a lot of points in a row.
In practices, they have a lot of competitive situations. They play games to 25 to see who wins. Points are docked for unforced errors while bonus points are rewarded for executing things they’ve been working on – like a back row or middle attack.
“We find little ways to put pressure on ourselves and work through these when you’re down but you want to win this mini game,” outside hitter Sullie Sundara said.
A lot of learning as well takes place in practice, according to Stratford. Learning from tweaks and adjustments to their systems. Learning from their errors.
“That resiliency for us also builds into the way we practice and learning from those errors is how we describe our resiliency,” Stratford noted.
After completing their comeback against Queen’s on Saturday, Louks pointed out how they found solutions during the game. They create that environment during practice as well.
“If we can create that solution building, rather than handing the answers all the time, it’s putting athletes in a circumstance where if you can work your way out and find a solution,” Louks said.
Looking, seeing and then deciding, he calls the concept.
“In the looking action, what are you seeing,” Louks continued. “What information are you seeing and what decisions can we make of that?”
They’ve incorporated those situations into practice. “If this [situation], then you have these things,” Louks described.
When it comes to games, Louks said the coaches can provide guidance during “at rest” moments (like timeouts). “Once the ball’s in play, we’ve got to trust in our players to make solutions built of what they see,” he added.
A big part of that finding solutions comes from the players communicating and figuring it out themselves – something promoted by the coaching staff.
“We don’t go all in all the time,” Louks said. “We’re letting the players decide and analyze and that creates a communication-rich environment – to hopefully help them when they’re in the middle of the chaos.”
The Marauders players found those solutions in perhaps chaotic situations against Queen’s. It was evident as they closed out the fifth set on Saturday – winning six of the last seven points.
Louks said they noticed Queen’s kept attacking through the right side as part of their strategy. In response, McMaster served the ball short in front of the net.
“To kind of jam up the works,” he added. “We just kind of stayed with it and it becomes a chess match.”
Stratford served. The Gaels had two attacking errors while the Marauders had some key digs. Stratford set up Sundara for three straight kills to clinch the victory.
“I think our players… around serving have real good capacity right around the court in terms of trying to create some pressure situations,” Louks said.
Heading into the winter break, the Marauders sit third in the OUA with an 8-2 record. They have won four games in a row and have a bye week after the break, which means they don’t play until Jan. 13 against Brock.
The extra week of rest could help the team get players back into the lineup. Outside hitter Emma McKinnon and middle Paige Vrolyk have been out. Delamere returned on Saturday against Queen’s but then outside hitter Maddy Lutes went off injured.
The extra week will allow them to have some more time away from volleyball between Christmas and New Year’s, according to Louks. They’ll be back on Jan. 2 – which allows them to have sort of a mini camp before the regular season resumes.
“We’ll make it fortuitous. We’ll believe that it’s a good thing,” Louks said of the bye. “At this stage of the situation, that’s the best you can do.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics