For two years in a row, the men’s volleyball team has made it to the CIS finals. For two years in a row, they have been knocked out in the first round. </p>
The McMaster Marauders, a team that has always bested the Warriors, eliminated them from the tournament in a dominating fashion March 10. Waterloo was swept in three games with scores of 25-15, 25-15, and 25-18. McMaster went on to lose to Trinity Western University in the finals, netting them the silver medal.
Head coach Chris Lawson’s goal at the beginning of this year was to make it past the first round of the CIS finals. Although the team fell short of this goal, they were able to accomplish a more significant goal: validating Waterloo’s men’s volleyball program.
In the past, Waterloo’s main selling points to high school volleyball players were the school’s academics and co-op opportunities.
“The reality is we built this program attracting athletes primarily based on academics in the University of Waterloo,” Lawson said. “If you look at our roster, we haven’t got a lot of guys taking really simple programs; four or five engineers, a couple of mathies, computer science, a couple of science guys, and a couple of kin guys. Our team represents the regular cross-section of Waterloo students pretty well.”
The school’s academic standards have also been a roadblock when recruiting players. A student may commit to the volleyball team, but they still need to get into one of the school’s programs and the admissions office gives no leniency to potential varsity athletes.
In a 2013 Maclean’s article, Waterloo had the fourth highest acceptance average for high school students in all of Canada, at 88.4 per cent.
“Obviously, the challenge at Waterloo is getting the grades to get in, and finding someone who is a CIS all-star who is also an academic all-star. There’s not a ton of those out there, so we definitely have a tougher time recruiting than pretty much any other team in the nation,” Lawson said.
Lawson joined the men’s volleyball program in 2007 and with every passing year he has been able to improve the team’s results. For nine straight years, he coached the team into the OUA playoffs. For the last six years, the team made it to the OUA semifinals. And for the last two years, the team has made it to the CIS tournament.
With these results, Waterloo has now become a favourable spot when highly touted high school recruits are choosing which university to go to.
“We’re getting guys to choose us for volleyball first and academics second,” Lawson said. “We’ve turned a corner in terms of that respect. It takes a long time to earn that respect and the status as one of the top quality programs in the nation, and we’re finally there, so that’s fantastic.”
For next year, Lawson already has a few high-end prospects that have committed to the program and received an offer from the school. One of them includes Matthew Mawdsley, a 6-11 middle from London, Ontario, who has played on the Ontario under-18 provincial team and youth under-18 national team.
On top of all this new firepower Lawson will have at his disposal next year, the majority of the team’s current roster will be returning. Of the starting lineup, the only players who are ineligible to play next year due to being on the team for five years are libero and team captain, Erich Woolley, and outside hitter Greg Simone. The rest of the starters — Jordan McConkey, Trevor Coathup, Gibson Graham, Aidan Simone, and CIS second team all-star Braden Cok — are all going into their fourth year of eligibility.
The program is on the rise and Lawson expects to be back at the CIS finals every year for the foreseeable future. With more talent coming in next year and the growing potential of the team, Waterloo will become an even more attractive place for future prospects.
“This team is going to continue to improve, continue to grow, and now your even better quality players are going to be coming up” Lawson said. “You can still come to the best academic school in the nation and be in one of the top volleyball programs in the nation, and the world’s largest co-op program. Where else can you get that experience?”