“Find ways to win”: McMaster shows its grit to stay undefeated

Hamilton, ON-Even with their undefeated record season record and number five national ranking, the McMaster Marauders women’s volleyball journey hasn’t been without adversity. 

They’ve dropped some games in the preseason. The Marauders faced that adversity in their most recent games – a 3-0 win over the Waterloo Warriors on Nov. 10 and a 3-2 win over the York Lions on Nov. 11. 

Against Waterloo, they fell behind at times throughout the match but rallied to win. In the first set, they responded to Waterloo taking a 20-18 lead by ripping off seven straight points. The Warriors held the lead for much of the third set as well before McMaster rallied to win it 25-19. 

They can feel it. The feeling of grittiness – something they showed time and time again. When they fell behind during a set, they don’t panic, according to McMaster head coach Nathan Janzen. 

“There’s a belief with this team right now…that we can come back in a set,” Janzen noted. “I just think that’s all it takes.” 

From all of Janzen’s coaching experience – and he’s got plenty of it over the years – he’s seen that belief waver with some teams. He’s seen deficits grow larger and larger and larger – from two points to five to losing a set. With this team, he sees something different. 

When they go down a few points, he doesn’t need to call that timeout. “They look at each other’s eyes and figure it out,” he said. 

The players figured it out with a different lineup than before. That’s been a theme throughout the season – with Janzen not settling on a definitive starting lineup. 

McMaster rallied from elimination to beat the York Lions (Photo: Siddh Jain/McMaster Athletics)

They figured it out with another different lineup the following night against York. They rallied from facing elimination in the fourth set. They switched liberos – Christina Stratford played the first night while Hayley Brookes played the second.

Third-year setter Chayse Victoria came in and notched 29 assists in her first game of the regular season. The next evening, it was second-year setter Payton Entwistle with 29 assists while Victoria had 12.

“I continue to use different lineups and we continue to find ways to win,” Janzen said. “It’s not always pretty but I think it’s creating a grittiness to our team.” 

That grittiness can be seen in their tactics and execution. Stratford credited the Marauders’ blocking scheme against Waterloo as well as their serving and passing. McMaster had 13 service aces to five service errors while also recording 35 assists. 

The team made a lot of in-game adjustments, according to fifth-year middle Ellie Hatashita. She acknowledges it can be personally difficult to find that grit resilience after making a mistake. As a middle, the opportunities to make up for those errors don’t come as often. 

Instead, Hatashita focuses on the little things. She focuses on covering blocks and blocking well. “Not necessarily the giant points like getting a huge kill,” she added. “I try and focus on everything else that I can do.” 

Hatashita did those other things – finishing with seven kills and five digs as well as a game-high .545 hitting percentage.

One player who was racking up those points was OUA All-Star and U SPORTS All-Canadian Sullie Sundara. The third-year outside hitter was playing on the right side – a new spot – but executed similar results. 

Sundara had a game-high 13 kills, 23 points and eight aces against Waterloo before following that up with 18 kills and 22 points against York. She’s attacking with her serves, causing havoc for the defence. Her eight aces doubled her previous career high. 

Awesome. That’s how Hatashita described it. “It gives our team a little bit of comfort,” she added “Good as an outlet also.” 

Hatashita called it one of her best games – “and she’s had some great games, so that’s awesome to see,” she added. 

Sundara’s performance has been among the best in the OUA (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

Sundara is first in the OUA in service aces (15), first in points per set (5.6) and second in kills per set (3.82). After all those accolades in her first two seasons, one wonders what could be in store for her this year? How high will she rise? 

The same question can be asked of the Marauders. The team is in the top five in Canada and will have a spot in the U SPORTS nationals next March – two wins away from a national medal and three wins away from a national title. 

For now? They’re focused on what’s ahead of them. They’re focused on being in the moment – something Janzen’s emphasized to them before – and shutting out all the noise around them. They’re focused on being gritty. 

“Especially at this point in the season when it’s early…there’s no time to get down on yourself and start worrying too much,” he said. “We just got to keep playing.” 

Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics

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