Hamilton, ON- With all their depth and lineups they’ve already used, one question looms large for the McMaster women’s volleyball team: What will their starting lineup be?
That was one thing to consider as the Marauders wrapped up their preseason slate with a three-set loss to the Queen’s Gaels at home on Oct. 22. It followed a thrilling five-set comeback victory the previous night.
Like they have in their other games, McMaster went with different lineups. Some players saw the court in one game, some did in the other and some in both. Against the Western Mustangs the week prior, the team rolled out five different lineups each set. You can make the case the squad depth runs 20 deep – if not more.
So, who will be on the court coming their season opener against the Toronto Varsity Blues on Nov. 4?
“I don’t know yet,” head coach Nathan Janzen said after the second Queen’s game. “I’m trying to think of it like we don’t currently have a starting lineup – and I would like to keep it that way for as long as possible. I think there’s a lot of benefits to that.”
There’s healthy competition in practices, from each position, for one. It helps when injuries occur, as players can slide into competition having already played some matches already.
It’s good for connections as well – which matters a lot in volleyball on and off the court, Janzen pointed out. “Every single person on this team right now I hope has [and] feels like they have value to this program,” he added. “They are important for us to be successful long term.”
Those connections and bonds have been happening – with different setter-attacker pairings and off the court bonding as well.
Those connections are formed from making a lot of eye contact, constantly talking and high-fiving, according to second-year outside hitter Abby Delamere. “In order for us to be dialed in on the game, we need to be dialed in with each other,” Delamere noted.
By the Queen’s games, they can feel that trust between each other, setter Lauryn Colpitts said. She knows they have each other backs. “They trust me no matter what happens and I trust them,” she added.
She’s one of the incoming players, a transfer from the Gaels. Colpitts said it was fun to play against her former teammates this past weekend.
“Kind of weird seeing them on the other side but really excited to see them again and feels like you’re competing alongside them as well,” she said.
As for her experience with her new team, it’s been a good experience. Colpitts noted how everyone’s been welcoming while it’s been an exciting start for the team.
The Marauders have won two tournaments and have gone 8-3 this preseason. Rookies Victoria Potvin, Ava Connelly and Olivia Julien have saw the court and already starting to leave their imprint in games.
Julien scored numerous points in their second game against the Gaels, showing her attacking ability.
“She’s got versatile shot making. She’s got good vision. She’s aggressive,” Janzen said. “The moment’s never too big for her – at least not yet at this level – which is kind of amazing for a first-year athlete.”
Janzen talked about how she helped stabilize their offence in that game, how she’s establishing herself as someone who can attack in the OUA.
Setter Emma Dhanjal – a transfer from Mercer – sees how Julien’s like a sponge. You tell her something and she absorbs it and translates that onto the court. “I don’t even think she knows how amazing she is,” Dhanjal noted. “She’s going to have a phenomenal career and do amazing things for our program.”
The program is entering what could be a special season. They have the depth and talent. They also have a spot at nationals as hosts next March. Games like their loss against Queen’s help in that journey.
“I think this team can win a national championship,” Dhanjal said. “It’s games like these that are pushing us towards that and getting us on the same page.” She knows that they will come back hungry and ready to learn and compete.
“There’s so much value from a game like this,” Janzen said.
It helps when he and the coaching staff are breaking down film – which he does a crazy amount of for every match – and relaying that to the players. “It’s easier to take value from a loss like that as a player because it’s like ‘oh, I need to get better here’,” Janzen said.
The big picture of them hosting nationals also factors into their lineup decisions. The urgency of winning in that season opener “isn’t through the roof” Janzen said. The urgency to set six players as their starting lineup isn’t either. “What we need is 20 players pushing in the same direction because it’s a long push,” he added.
Janzen acknowledges they’ll probably have to put an overall starting lineup on the floor sometime during the season but he’s in no rush for it to happen.
There’s a variety of factors when it comes time to setting the lineup for that season opener and beyond.
Part of it could be who’s having a good week of practice or having a good season or had a good offseason. Part of it could be based on what they’re working with their physical training. Part of it could be dictated by their opponents and how to match up best against them.
“All of these things are always playing into some decision making,” Janzen said. How they line up for one opponent one night to another opponent the next night might be completely different.
“If we’re ready for that,” Janzen said. “If we have 20 players ready for that, I think that’s way better for our team.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics