Hamilton, ON- Payton Entwistle knew what she had to do as soon as it happened. She knew as soon as McMaster setter Emma Dhanjal went out injured in the second set of the McMaster Marauders’ women’s volleyball season opener against the Toronto Varsity Blues.
Entwistle knew she would have to play more and fill Dhanjal’s role. It was scary, she admits. She was nervous about it.
Coming into the day, she was preparing to be double sub – coming in for small increments during the game. Now, the second-year setter was in a spot she hadn’t been before. Now, she was the main setter.
When she came into the game, she produced, setting up teammates Sullie Sundara, Ellie Hatashita, Maddy Lutes and others. She finished with 19 assists as the Marauders defeated the Varsity Blues three sets to one on Nov. 4. It was her second-most assists in a game in her university career.
There were some things she could rely on with her experience. Like coming into a game cold, which she’s used to doing. Entwistle already had the familiarity of playing and practising with her teammates.
There were things she still had to go through. Entwistle made sure not to psych herself out. “I can really get in my own head,” she said.
You got this. You can do this. That’s what her teammates told her. She needed that. “Okay, I just need to get in there and do what I know how to do,” she told herself.
What went through Entwistle’s mind after she went on? She tried to stay calm and positive. She tried to continue what Dhanjal already started. The team already won the first set and would soon win another one after Entwistle came in.
As a setter, she knew she had to command the court. “You have to know what everyone’s doing and you have to be in control of that,” she said. “Making sure I was in control of that properly and everyone remained good and even the entire time.”
It came down to communication. Entwistle knew she had to say what she needed to say: where her teammates are hitting, where they are, where their rotations are set. Against Toronto, they focused on tip defence and setting their blocks.
As Marauders head coach Nathan Janzen stood on the sidelines, he saw how she settled in after the first few points. Entwistle started to figure out the game plan and what they wanted to accomplish.
He saw how well she served and ran the offence. “She’s got phenomenal hands. She can set the ball anywhere at any time,” Janzen noted. He saw how Entwistle was so amped up, she overset a couple of balls. “She was so excited,” he said. “Not nervous. Excited.”
What a difference a year makes. If this had happened a season ago, it might have been a different outcome and experience.
“I don’t think I would have been ready for it at all,” Payton said. The reality is that first year is a challenging year for many – including herself – with the new environment and adjustments.
She remembers beating herself up for small errors and being in her own head. Her older sister Paige – an outside hitter on the Marauders – noticed a change in her demeanour. “When she gets upset or whatever, she’s not as within herself,” Paige said. “She’s able to move on quicker.”
It’s been a journey to get here. Things from her past had affected her confidence before. Little things would set her off into a spiral of not believing in herself and what she could do.
Payton turned to a lot of positive self-talk. Her confidence comes from her teammates as well, who know she can get in her own head. You can do it, they tell her.
Her confidence comes from Paige as well. From what she does and what she says.
“She knows how to stabilize me more than anybody else,” Payton said. “And she’s absolutely amazing at it.”
Even before she came to McMaster, Payton would hear from Paige about her university experience. She would hear how Paige struggled with her confidence in her early years at McMaster. She would hear how Paige got through it.
She saw how Paige was so self-assured and within herself – something Payton wasn’t very good at. She saw how Paige took on a leadership role. She saw how Paige did so while dealing with injuries, coming off the bench and doing what the team needed her to do.
The two of them came into McMaster in different situations and different times. Payton was recruited. Paige was a walk on. However, they’ve experienced similar things.
“Knowing how I’ve been through the same thing and how I know what she’s feeling,” Paige said. “That kind of thing really helps her out as well.”
Paige has helped her out with her schoolwork and courses, having been through that challenge herself. She helps her out with her confidence as well. When Payton opens up to her about things, she listens and responds. “I try to keep her level-headed,” Paige noted.
Sometimes, it can be a text in the middle of the night. Sometimes, when Payton is going into one of her spirals, she’ll text Paige and freak out. “You’re freaking out over nothing,” Paige reassures her.
Sometimes, in person as well. Paige will shake Payton at times when she’s spiralling. “Calm down, relax,” Paige would tell her. “You know you’re good. Just chill out, because it was like this for me.”
Payton knew how much those words meant to her. She had grown up looking up to Paige a lot, even before her sister came to McMaster. She had followed Paige’s Marauders career and after four years, the two sisters were finally playing together for the first time last season.
“Absolutely bizarre,” she recalled. At first, Payton was shocked to be on the same team as Paige. To be a McMaster Marauder just like her.
“I didn’t think I was in the same area,” Payton said. “But she’s like, ‘you deserve to be here.’” Paige reminded her how she’s earned her spot on the team.
With Payton in her second season and Paige in her final one, the feeling of playing together has become less bizarre, according to Payton.
Instead, the two sisters have become closer. They’ve become closer with their other sisters as well. Paige sees Payton every day and knows more about her life than she ever has. “It’s really nice to have someone like so close that you can talk to about things,” she said.
After all those talks and texts, Payton’s become more confident. More confident with her role and where’s she’s supposed to be. The game against the Varsity Blues showed that.
Paige saw that as well during the game. Payton’s overcoming her nerves and confidence struggles quicker than she did, the older sister said.
Paige saw how well Payton served against Toronto after struggling with it a lot last year. She saw how she went after it and how it paid off.
Janzen told Payton and her teammates before the game about the importance of living in the moment. Don’t think about wins or losses, nationals or anything else happening around the team, he told them. “We want to live in that one moment,” he added.
Payton took those words to heart. She’s been really working on that. She knows how important it is. She’s aware of all the changes with the team. However, when she thinks too much about the future, she gets overwhelmed.
That’s how she felt initially coming in for Dhanjal. It was their season opener after all with all the noise and cheers from the crowd in the Burridge Gym. It was a new situation. She heard that but zoned in on what she needed to do. She focused on being in the moment.
Even after each point and all the highs and lows, she focused on staying calm and composed. Staying together as a team. Having fun together as well.
Payton did so as the Marauders won. She was ready for the moment – something she couldn’t say a year ago – and knew it. A moment over a year in the making. She knew when she locked eyes with Janzen at one point during the game.
“You can do it,” Janzen told her.
“I’m ready for it,” Payton responded.
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics