A New Era: McMaster Women’s Rugby Shutouts Laurier and Develops their Identity

Hamilton, ON- The sun was shining on a warm September afternoon at Ron Joyce Stadium as the McMaster Marauders women’s rugby team embarked upon their home opener against the Laurier Golden Hawks. 

It was their third game of the season and while there were some familiar faces back from last season, there were some new ones as well. 

The team has 12 first-year players on their roster. They have a first-year head coach as well. Chris Jones has years of experience around the game – dating back to when he was a player at the University of Guelph. However, this was his first season as a U Sports head coach. 

In front of fans, friends and family, the Marauders jumped onto the attack quickly, scoring minutes into the game. 

They moved the ball up the field as players made key passes and big runs. “We had a couple of really good runners today,” team captain Katie McLeod said. “What’s really going to work for us going into the future in our next few games is really having those strong runners and making sure we’re having those support lines with them.” 

McLeod had one try and five conversations, adding to her season total of 34 points (tied for third in the OUA). 

The team also played their system better in the second half, according to McLeod. “We trusted ourselves and each other a little bit better,” she added. “We were able to run with support some more.” 

The Marauders moved to 2-1 after beating Laurier (Photo: Marisa Settimi/McMaster Athletics)

Nine different players scored tries for the Marauders by the end of the game, including Ila Bett and Taylor Wood with three each. McMaster also held strong defensively in their 77-0 win over Laurier. 

The Marauders have reached great heights before, having won the national championship in 2015 and the OUA championship in 2014 and 2015. The program is now on their third head coach in the past three seasons. 

Jones has coached at the high school and U19 level, with Rugby Ontario as well as with the Fergus Highland Rugby Club. Now he’s an OUA head coach. “I always wanted to be involved in OUA rugby,” he said. He mentions how his wife is a McMaster grad, how he knew players he coached at the high school and club teams who moved onto McMaster. 

Now the focus is on developing their team identity. Focusing on doing the hard stuff and leaving the jersey better, according to him. 

“That’s a common phrase in rugby but it’s means so much more,” he noted. “It’s a symbol for leaving each other better, leaving the school better, leaving the sport better. We really bought into that and it’s really starting to show up on the pitch as well as in our interactions and stuff like that.”

Fourth-year Zoe Spronk said the team has approached the season as a family, where the players support each other.

McLeod said Jones brought in stellar assistant coaches as the team reset their team culture from training camp until now. The focus is on the team.

“When we make mistakes or when we’re down, we’re not getting on each other, yelling at people for their individual mistakes,” she noted. “We’re a team and we’re focused on okay, that happened, let’s get back at it. Let’s get back to our focus…how are we as a team going to fix this.” 

Jones said having the veteran players’ support has been incredible. “I couldn’t do the job with having the support and trust of some of our fifth, four-year players,” he added. “Rugby – it needs the team. No individual can do it, no coach can do it by themselves.” 

Zoe Spronk scored two tries against Laurier (Photo: Marisa Settimi/McMaster Athletics)

On cue to their team identity, the Marauders were tested early on. After beating Trent to open the season, they lost on the road to the defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons 85-6.

Spronk said there were some ups and downs during that game. There were lessons learned as well. 

“A big part of that was learning our systems,” she noted. “The way that we play rugby and not to change the way that we play based on our opponent and how they play. So we’re just going to play our own game and play the way that we want to play the way that we know how know to play and do our thing.” 

Jones mentioned how the players and the team learns the most from playing against the best. He referenced an example against Guelph. 

“When we got under the pump and had some points put on us, we stopped playing as a team,” he said. “We started to try and make individual decisions, individual tackles, individual decisions and our sport just can’t work like that. We need that 15 [players] working together.” 

They kept that in mind during the Laurier game, the importance of playing as a team, according to him. 

Next up, the nationally ranked ninth-place Marauders host defending national champions and currently undefeated Queen’s Gaels. The Gaels are ranked number one. It’s another opportunity to maximize learning. 

“How can we maintain our composure, keep mentally focused in the game,” Jones noted. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to work on our defence because I imagine we’re going to be playing at a lot more defence.” 

Spronk said there’s a little extra boost of motivation playing Queen’s, especially at home. She mentioned the importance of defence, something they’ve been working on. 

“Making our one-on-one tackles and structuring the field wide is going to be really important,” she said. “Focusing on everything we’ve been working on defensively is going to be really important and if we do that…I have no doubt that we can hold our own.” 

One of the team’s focuses for the season is to have a strong defence, according to McLeod. “Ideally, if we could finish in that top three in the OUA, that would be fantastic,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’ve set our own metrics to build as rugby players and as a team.” 

Katie McLeod is the team’s go-to player for conversions (Photo: Mike Marasco/McMaster Athletics)

McLeod herself has grown in her career. She came into McMaster as a very shy person. She was supported by welcoming teammates all the way through. “They helped me come out of my shell to be the leader and the person I am today,” she said. “Honestly, so grateful for all of those ladies.” 

Now’s she the team captain and a key player. She came back for her fifth year at McMaster after a last-second decision. She decided to return after talking with Jones about his plans for the team. “I just felt like it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss,” she said. 

“I’m really glad I made this decision,” McLeod said. “The coaches are fantastic. I love this team and it’s been a good last kind of final hurrah.” 

Featured Image: Laurel Jarvis/Guelph Athletics/McMaster Athletics

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