By Fraser Caldwell
Looking to build some momentum in a difficult place, the Marauders started and finished strongly Friday to edge a rollercoaster contest in Kingston.
McMaster won the first 11 points of the match and took a one-set lead out of the gate, before watching Queen’s recover by winning the second and third to put the visitors’ backs against the wall. But the Marauders responded by eking out the fourth set and were the more focused side in the deciding fifth, to earn a 25-11, 21-25, 23-25, 25-22, 15-13 victory and improve to 2-1 on the season.
Veteran outside hitter Jessie Nairn was a constant presence in every facet of Friday’s match, leading the night with 18 kills while hitting .295 and adding match highs of five aces and 17 digs. She had four block assists to end the contest with 25 points.
Joining her teammate in double digits, Maddie Lethbridge racked up 14 kills on 29 attempts with just four errors (.345) to enjoy the most efficient hitting of Mac’s leading hitters, and chipped in two solo blocks for 16 points.
Orchestrating the offence from the setting position, Rebecca Maxwell had 42 assists on the night, and contributed 12 digs on the defensive side.
McMaster came flying out of the gates Friday, with their opening rotation causing havoc for the Gaels en route to 11 consecutive points. Nairn began the contest at the service line and subjected Queen’s to a steady diet of low, hard float serves that consistently put the hosts on the back foot.
The nightmarish start forced the Gaels to burn both of their team timeouts before the technical, and despite fighting the Marauders to roughly even the rest of the way, the deficit was far too big for the hosts to recoup by set’s end.
A roll shot from rookie Marina Vesovic brought up set points at 24-11, and Mac won it on the first of those when Danielle Corrigan’s shot found the tape.
There was nothing between the two teams for much of the second set, until the Gaels found the means to break things open in the final stages. Separated by just one point at the technical timeout, the teams parted when Queen’s responded with two more after the break, and the Gaels could not be caught from there.
A kill by Arielle Palermo brought up set points at 24-21, and Queen’s levelled the match when Lethbridge was blocked to take the first of those.
Trailing by as many as seven points midway through the third set, the Marauders clawed their way back to within striking distance and create some late drama. From 10-17 down in the wake of the technical timeout, McMaster reeled off seven of the next eight points, and was just one point behind after a trio of Palermo misses.
In the late stages, it was a pair of crucial service errors, one which put the Marauders behind at 20-21 and another which brought up set point at 23-24, which sunk McMaster. Following the second of those, Queen’s took its set point opportunity with a block to move into the overall lead at 2-1.
The fourth set saw the tables turned, as the Gaels slowly reeled in the Marauders after falling behind midway through, and ultimately failed to erase the deficit. Mac enjoyed leads of 14-9 and 16-11 at the technical, but found its advantage shrunk to just two points at 18-16 after a Corrigan ace.
The lead swelled to three at 23-20, but the hosts injected some stress by claiming the next two points, before the Marauders steadied themselves. Lethbridge polished off a textbook back set from Maxwell to bring up a pair of set points at 24-22, and the Marauders cashed the first of those when Palermo’s attack flew long.
Having deadlocked the match yet again, the Marauders took the initiative into the fifth and won five of the first seven points to send the Gaels into a timeout. Queen’s responded by roaring back to within a point at 9-8, and turned the match into a question of who could best hold their nerve.
The answer proved to be McMaster, as a Palermo service error brought up a pair of match points for the visitors and they proceeded to take the second opportunity when Nairn found the sideline with a heavy cut shot.
NEXT UP: The Marauders remain in Kingston Saturday to take on the RMC Paladins at 6:00 p.m.