By Kaitlin Jingco, U SPORTS Men's Volleyball Correspondent
Whenever the Guelph and McMaster men's volleyball teams face each other, you can always spot Corrine Richards wearing her custom-made half-Guelph, half-McMaster t-shirt.
The London, Ont., mother of three sports this unique top because she can't pick just one team to support: her eldest son Kyle plays for the Gryphons and her middle son Andrew plays for the Marauders.
While some might imagine that it would be uncomfortable for the Richards family to have to watch their sons go head-to-head, over the past three years Corinne, her husband, Peter, and their ninth-grade son Jack have learned to focus on each player individually.
"We've watched them enough that we really just want them to have their own best game on each side of the court," says Corinne.
Both Kyle and Andrew's teams play in the OUA West Division and therefore, the brothers have had to face each other twice this season alone and six times over the course of their university careers.
With the Gryphons finishing in second place in the conference and the Marauders coming in top spot with their perfect 15-0 record, third-year Andrew has beaten his big brother twice this year—and every time they've met in the university volleyball setting.
"I'll get to hold that over my brother for the rest of life," laughs the McMaster setter.
It's a unique turn of events considering the now fifth-year Kyle was the one who sparked Andrew's interest in the sport.
Moving into university, Kyle says that Andrew would often turn to him for advice.
"He leaned on me for tips on how to manage practice loads," says the Guelph captain.
But as time has progressed and as Kyle has seen himself moving into positions that his younger brother has more experience in, such as libero, the brothers have seen a bit of a role reversal.
"I've had to lean on him this year for tips on passing and working on my platform. It's been a full 360 (from) where I was the one that got him into the sport…but just this past year, he's been incredibly important for me," says Kyle. "It goes both ways. I'm better because of him, and I'd like to think that I helped to make him better a little bit as well."
With Andrew having played on the Canadian junior national team and having helped McMaster get to the U SPORTS Championship the past two years in a row, Kyle says that his younger brother has even surpassed him in some ways.
"He's probably, in my opinion, the most talented player in the league," says the older Richards of his sibling.
Andrew may be the most decorated volleyball player in the Richards family, but he still looks up to his older brother for the amazing qualities he has both on the court and in regular life.
"He's definitely the best leader I think I've ever experienced," says Andrew. "Getting to know the other Guelph players and seeing how much they respect him as a leader and a role model, it's really cool…He helps me see what kind of person I want to be…While my team comes out (with a record of) 6-0, he beats me at the more important things in life, so it's all good."
The pair have an obviously close relationship—Corinne says they've always been best friends and Kyle says they talk every day—and they both credit their parents for their strong family values and for their success in sport and school. But on the court things do get competitive, and the boys have their respective teams' best interests in mind.
On the Guelph side, Kyle is looking forward to playing in the OUA post-season for the first time in his five years on the team.
"It'd be nice to end on a winning note, which would mean we win the OUA championship," he says of the final games of his volleyball career.
Andrew—who often jokingly encourages his younger brother Jack to choose McMaster over Guelph—has the same OUA gold aspiration for McMaster. And having finished with a national bronze medal in 2015 and a silver in 2016, he's looking even further, hoping the Marauders will earn the top spot this year on the national stage.
Ideally, Corrine and Peter Richards would love to see both of their sons make it to the U SPORTS Fogg Men's Volleyball Championship at the University of the Alberta – two OUA teams can qualify and McMaster on Guelph could meet in the conference championship.
Both teams will begin their playoff runs on Saturday, with McMaster hosting Queen's and Guelph welcoming Nipissing in the opening round, each looking to advance to the OUA Final Four.
But regardless of what happens, the parents say that they're proud of their sons' accomplishments thus far, and thank the university athletics setting for all that it's done for their sons.
"I think the athletics and the academics will come together and give them a great foundation to find where their passions lie," says Corrine.