Hamilton, ON- Amid all the lineups and all the players who played for the McMaster Marauders women’s volleyball team this past weekend, there was a common thread: they were all on the same page.
It’s something Marauders head coach Nathan Janzen pointed out. It’s been one of their preseason objectives. Yes, they can be deep but also play together.
“I wanted to make sure that all 20-something of them are always working together on the same page and know what they can expect from each other,” Janzen said.
That depth and cohesion was on display. Many of them saw the court and made plays. Many of them scored points and set them up. Many of them took part in McMaster’s straight five-set victory over the Western Mustangs on Oct. 15. They all celebrated the win.
Just looking at it, their roster almost deep enough for two teams. “It’s awesome because our roster is so diverse from our seniors, super seniors to our rookies,” first-year middle Ava Connelly said. “Everyone can play. Everyone can compete.”
With each set came a new lineup. It was a mix of veterans, younger players and transfers. There was OUA All-star Sullie Sundara notching serving ace after serving ace. There were the middles making blocks and numerous players making digs. There were the four setters, who Janzen credited for their patience and making things seamless for the team.
There was Connelly and fellow rookies Olivia Julien and Victoria Potvin – still fresh in their experience with McMaster volleyball. The three of them played throughout the first two sets before playing together during the fifth set as the team rallied to defeat Western. “It’s super cool for us to be on the court at the same time,” Potvin said.
Julien lined up a few kills while Potvin did as well. Connelly got in on a couple of blocks. “Sometimes I jump off and hope for the best,” Connelly said. “It’s the most exciting feeling ever.”
Speaking of excitement, you could see it and sense it by how her teammates cheered her on. How they cheered the different players on as McMaster scored their points.
Connelly noticed how much energy they had on and off the court. Potvin noticed how her teammates are always cheering each other on from the bench. “Feeling like you’re encouraged, like you can do it is something that our team is really good at doing,” she added.
The team is close off the court as well. They’re all friends. Teammates make the effort to reach out to one another. Coaches work on team bonding exercises. When they’re away on road trips, the players study together as well.
“We have a great support system,” Connelly said. “Everyone’s looking out for each other.”
For instance, Connelly’s older teammates have reached out and helped her out.
She calls her fellow middles Jenna Woock and Ellie Hatashita great mentors. She’ll watch and absorb everything they’re doing. Sometimes she’ll talk with them about reading the play. Sometimes about shot selection or anything else. “Even though they’re still learning, I’m learning from them,” Connelly noted.
Janzen said the team’s rookies are doing amazing. “They’re way ahead of where I thought they would be right now,” he noted. “They’re playing the way we’re asking them to play but they’re building great relationships, they’re having great results and most importantly for me, the academic piece, is they’re doing well there.”
Given all the different lineups the Marauders were rolling out, they came into the game with a purpose. How they decided on those specific lineups for example.
Part of the reasoning was about pairing players of different heights, setter-hitter connections as well as getting players used to have different teammates passing beside each other.
“It’s too early on in the season to be that comfortable,” Janzen said. They’ll build more of those person-to-person connections later in the season but for now, it’s about getting players to know each other.
“I’m really trying to foster some uncomfortable vulnerability while at the same time building, ‘hey we’re on the same page. We’re playing volleyball the McMaster way,’” Janzen added.
He also wanted to simulate the experience of having players come in cold into a set and have to get into a rhythm.
Despite all the different players, the common denominator lies within their system. It depends on what they see, according to the head coach.
“They’re all looking for the same thing,” he said. “Those cues stay the same no matter what – and that way they can really start to build trust in each other just through their communication and seeing what they see through the other side.”
The focus is on connecting and communicating. It’s something Potvin puts a lot of importance on.
It can come from calling out balls and plays. However, it also comes from telling teammates, “you got it,” and being there for each other. It comes from showing them it’s okay to make mistakes because the team has their back, according to her. Playing with different teammates has been a lot of fun for her.
McMaster has gone 7-2 in the preseason with two games left to go. They’ve won two tournaments and beaten some quality opponents.
Janzen pointed out how there’s still a bunch of things they have to get better at though. However, the team has already gotten better since the start of the season a month ago.
“That showed in our results today,” Janzen said. “Going from lineup to lineup today was smooth. They didn’t miss a beat.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics