Toronto, ON- Brendan Mills is in his second season with the McMaster Marauders men’s volleyball team. He and the Marauders have had their share of highs. Winning the OUA title in 2021-22 for instance.
Now, Mills experienced first regular season loss. The McMaster Marauders men’s volleyball team came into their final two games of the OUA regular season with an undefeated record but it wasn’t to last.
The Marauders lost to the TMU Bold in three sets on Feb. 17 before losing to the reigning OUA finalist Toronto Varsity Blues in four sets on Feb. 19.
“We weren’t prepared for that. We didn’t take them seriously enough” Mills said of the TMU game. “I think a lot of guys might have expected that one to come to us and they came out firing. We didn’t give anything back to them.”
The Marauders lost the first set 25-18, the second set 25-16 and the third set 25-23. Two days later, against Toronto, they kept it close in the sets they lost and won the third set.
Late in the stretch of the regular season, McMaster has had players in and out of the lineup. Wlodarski said the TMU’s game was “the most sick and injured we’ve been all year.”
Wlodarski didn’t play against TMU but did against Toronto. Fellow OUA All-Star Sam Cooper hasn’t played most of the second half of the season. Mills pointed out how they’ve played a long stretch of games without much of a break.
“We’re all battling through our own things but it was a good couple of games to get our own guys in,” Mills added.
With the roster rotation came opportunities for others. Middle Haben Yohannes played in all four sets against the Varsity Blues, notching five kills and six block assists.
“I thought he was awesome,” Mills said. “I expect nothing less from him. He trains so so hard…he’s a confident guy. He came in and he was ready.”
Now the Marauders will have to be ready for their OUA playoffs. They face the same Bold team in the quarterfinals on Feb. 25.
Mills pointed out how there’s lessons to be learned from their previous two games. One of those lessons perhaps is executing late in sets. Mistakes after the one of the teams reaches 20 points, according to him.
It comes down to who has it in that final stretch. Against, Toronto, the Marauders didn’t – “we weren’t ready to perform those last five points,” Mills noted.
For Mills, being able to find mentality to perform in those moments comes naturally to him. He loves those moments, feeling fiery. “Volleyball gets even more fun after 20 points, when it’s close,” he noted. “I love it. That feeling of adrenaline. That’s why I play.”
There are perhaps some silver linings in place. Wlodarski noted how the Marauders played a lot better against Toronto than TMU.
Amid the games that happened and the games still to take place, there’s almost full week. They’ll look to heal up going into playoffs, according to Wlodarski.
Having only one game a week in the OUA playoffs instead of two will help. So will managing their schedule leading up to the quarterfinal game – which Wlodarski said they will do.
“I think we can do a fine job of being as ready as we can be come Saturday for our quarterfinal,” he added.
Women’s Team Learn and Rest Up to Close Regular Season
The McMaster women’s volleyball team made even more lineup changes than the men’s team in their final regular season game against the Toronto Varsity Blues on Feb. 19 – a three set loss.
This comes after losing to Western and TMU, which saw them slip out of the U SPORTS Top 10 ranking and out of a top three seed in the OUA Playoffs.
After going five sets with TMU on Friday, several starters and key players didn’t play against Toronto – Christina Stratford, Sullie Sundara, Ana Strbac, Emma McKinnon and Ellie Hatashita among them.
Instead, players such as Christine Hachokake, Jordan Vang, Megan DiFrancesco and Chayse Victoria saw significant playing time.
“Learning, opportunity, learning, learning,” head coach Tim Louks noted. He pointed out how they had moments but they were also times where they didn’t get after it, didn’t take risks.
“What did you learn would be my question to all of them,” Louks noted. “If you don’t change, will you expect a different outcome if you don’t make changes? Can’t do that in the middle of a match but we’ll take this and we’ll work with it.”
This involves asking, reflecting and highlighting on what the players did well, what they learned and what to do to get better. Unconscious things becoming conscious, according to Louks.
They talked about fight for the Toronto game. “We saw it today a little bit. We fight like hell but in that fight, we lose our minds,” he said. “Our opponents: calm, cool, collected.”
As for not playing a lot of the starters, the head coach called it risk assessment of physical and mental health.
“We don’t know enough. We need to know more without risking the entire team and sacrificing them for the team and the team for them” Louks said. “It’s trying to find the balance. I don’t know if I got it right…we hope we made the right decisions and live with them.”
The Marauders enter the OUA playoffs as the fourth seed, facing a York Lions team they’ve beaten at home twice this season.
Louks called York a very good team that will be ready – which in turn will help McMaster be ready. He pointed out how the Marauders by the end of the week will be as healthy as they’ve been in a month.
“I think we’re in a very good spot to begin a run in the playoffs,” Louks noted. “Physically, mentally, emotionally – all those kind of things.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics