Hamilton, ON- When the OUA playoffs comes around, it’s survive and move on season. That’s what McMaster Marauders men’s volleyball head coach Dave Preston calls it.
The Marauders did just that, defeating the York Lions on Mar. 4 in three sets to advance to the Forsyth Cup finals.
The start of the game looked the opposite though as McMaster fell behind 5-0. Once it became 6-2, Preston called timeout.
“I think sometimes we do get in our own heads,” outside hitter Peter Rugosi noted. “And in the beginning of the game, it really did show when we were down five points.”
The timeout helped centre them back to their basics, drawing on the thousands of reps they have already, according to him
The Marauders fought back to win the first set 25-21 before winning the next two 25-18 and 25-20. Preston said their game plan was good and they executed fairly well – including in the middle.
The game also marked the return of their full lineup. The team’s had players in and out of the rotation throughout the second half of the season – reaching a tipping point against TMU in the last weekend of the regular season. Last week in their playoff rematch against TMU, outside hitter Sam Cooper returned. Against York, outside hitter Maxime Gratton returned.
“We got a little glimpse of what Max can do,” Preston said. The head coach said Gratton did a really good job coming in and handling York’s serves. He also finished off the game with the final kill as his teammates and the Burridge Gym crowd cheered.
When the OUA playoffs come around, it also means managing practices and rest and recovery for the team as well. Management mode, Preston called it.
They have an off day for purely rest and recovery – ice tubbing, treatment and “anything the guys need”, according to Rugosi.
Their practices have been shortened but are just as intense. They’re not all the full two-and-a-half hours. When they are on the court, the focus seems to be about sharpening.
“We know all of our systems. We know all of our tactics,” Rugosi noted. “Now it’s just finessing it, making it even better.”
During the practices, Rugosi said everyone’s going 100 per cent with every detail given maximum focus – even in the simplest of passing, setting and hitting drills.
Their execution of those details could be seen during their game against York. So could their depth. Twelve played saw the court with 11 of them playing at least two sets. Preston pointed out how Gratton, Rugosi and Thomas Williams came off the bench. “That’s pretty good for March when you’re 10 deep in your lineup.”
The impact of their full lineup could also be felt in practices. They’re not used to having all their outside hitters back, Rugosi pointed out. Whether it’s been Cooper or someone else, they’ve seemingly always been short throughout the year. Until this past week.
“It’s nice because it brings a new sense of competition into the gym because everyone’s fighting just to get into practice games,” Rugosi said. “Not everyone’s going to get on, no matter how good you are, so you just got to go and work for it.”
When it comes to games, Rugosi said it’s also a really nice feeling to have that deep bench they can rely upon. When things aren’t going their way in the game, they can turn to another one of their outside hitters.
“You know whoever goes on for you, you have complete trust in them because you’ve seen them in practice,” he added. “You’ve seen how hard they work. And you know that they’re an amazing amazing player.”
The outside hitters made their mark against York. Cooper finished with 15 points and 10 kills. Brendan Mills had 8.5 points and eight kills while Mateusz Wlodarski had four points and three kills.
As the Marauders get closer to the end of the season – the Forsyth Cup finals against Windsor on Mar. 4 and nationals at home the week after – they know what’s at stake. Through the grind of the season, it fuels them – no extra motivation needed.
“We know what’s on the table. We know how we’ve got to perform,” Rugosi said. “It’s not like we need an extra push. It’s just how hard do you want it, how much do you want it, will determine how much we’ll push.”
Featured Image: McMaster Athletics