Hamilton, ON- His first couple of weeks on the job were a whirlwind. Brad Douwes remembers being overwhelmed early on after he started his new role as head coach for the McMaster men’s volleyball team.
Douwes was replacing long-time head coach Dave Preston (now coaching the Australian men’s national team).
A Hamilton native, Douwes had played at Redeemer College. He coached both the men’s and women’s programs at Redeemer as well. He was now stepping into a program that had won multiple OUA championships and national medals.
“A dream come true,” he called the job. However, he didn’t really get to think or reflect on it until mid-June.
“That’s when it really sunk in,” he noted. “This was real. Just really excited about the opportunity and looking forward to continuing to build on the excellence that’s been here historically.”
The Marauders first two exhibition games under Douwes were two home victories over the Queen’s Gaels. McMaster won the first game three sets to none on Sept. 30 and the second one three sets to one on Oct. 1.
Douwes called it a great start for them. They’ve been able to translate some things they were working on in training.
One of those things is the tempo of their offence. They want to play faster and higher. “We’re a little bit smaller [than last season] so we’ve got to play faster,” Douwes said. “As long as our ball control and sort of reception allows us to, we’re going to try and play with a bit more speed just simply because we’re made up of different athletes.”
Several key members of last year’s OUA championship and U SPORTS bronze medalist team have departed: Sam Cooper, Wojciech Kraj and Mateusz Wlodarski among others.
Several key members are back as well: Robbie Fujisawa, Brendan Mills, liberos Ben Kerkhoff and Matthew Rugosi and others.
Fujisawa noted that while there’s some turnover – “some big guys for sure, like physically”, he said – it’s been straightforward since he’s been training with most of the returning players for a long time.
“This is going to happen every year,” he said. “People are going to leave and it’s going to be a new team every year. I think that turnover is still really easy because everyone knows it’s coming.”
As for the turnover at head coach, it helps as well that Douwes was an assistant coach on the team back in 2021-22. He’s also coached some of the first-year players at the club level or Team Ontario. There was a familiarity and comfortability among the players that helped the transition, according to Douwes.
Fujisawa pointed out it’s a balance of sticking to things that have worked in the past and adapting to new things that are coming. Most of those changes are happening now but some will be seen in four or five months.
“We’re definitely feeling it out right now,” he added. “Right now, I think everyone is pretty happy with the changes we’re going through and they are open to trying new things.”
The Marauders went with many of their returning veterans against Queen’s. However, especially in the second game, they went deeper into their bench. They went with some of their rookies.
Outside hitter Brady Paterson and middle Jared Kuiken were among those that got on. They made plays and scored points as their teammates cheered them on.
Kuiken called the experience a lot of fun. It’s been an adjustment but lots of fun. “I think it was just pure enjoyment,” he said. “Just to bump up to that next level, it’s just nothing but happiness and gratitude and I’m just very grateful to be here.”
Paterson grew up watching Marauders games in the Burridge Gym. Now he’s playing in them. Surreal, he called it. “I never thought one day I’d be playing here but here I am now playing and it’s a pretty cool experience for sure.”
When he was on the sideline, waiting to be subbed in, the realization hit him: he was going to be playing for McMaster.
While the team is playing faster, the pace is something the first-years will have to get used to.
Being in practice five days a weeks helps with that.
“We try to keep it pretty simple for them,” Douwes said. “As simple as we can. But then put then in the environment, day after day, with training to help them get accustomed to the speed.
Kuiken’s focused on reading the setter early and figuring out where the ball’s going. He wants to get his strength up as well – which will help with the pace.
Meanwhile, Paterson’s been working with coaches on changing his technique and other things. It’s been a lot of work and practice. “I think I can improve on everything,” he added.
The team will also be looking to improve as the season goes on. They have three games against Alberta, Trinity Western and Mount Royal in Kingston from Oct. 13-15. Then, a trip to Columbus for a pair of games against Ohio State.
The preseason will allow them to see where the strengths, weaknesses are and what adjustments they can make, according to Douwes. Their exhibition schedule helps with that.
“We want to be tested as much as possible in September and October to help prepare us for the season,” Douwes said.
When the OUA season comes along, we will see if the Marauders can capture a third straight Forsyth Cup. Can they repeat and build on the success of previous years? Can they maintain they position as an OUA powerhouse?
Fujisawa said they set the same goals as every season: win the regular season, the OUA championship and compete for the national championship. “Nothing has changed in that regard,” he added.
Mills said the team’s going into the rest of their preseason with a lot of confidence. He mentioned how the Queen’s wins are a good indicator of what they’re capable of – “I think we can beat anyone this year,” he noted.
“I don’t think teams are ready for us,” Mills added. “We’re a lot better than people expect and I’m really excited to see what we can do this year.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics