Hamilton, ON- It was a rematch of their previous week’s game and a role reversal as well. In their regular season finale and seniors’ night game, the McMaster Marauders women’s rugby team rallied from being behind all game long to earn a last-second victory over the Brock Badgers.
Osa Olaye scored the winning try just as time expired to complete the comeback. The victory gave the Marauders the third seed in the standings and a home playoff date with those same Badgers one week later in the OUA quarterfinals on a windy Saturday afternoon.
It was a low-scoring first half as Brock got on the board with a penalty conversion by Paige DeNeve. McMaster took the lead as they moved the ball up the field and Olaye scored from the goal line.
DeNeve converted another penalty to give the visitors a 6-5 edge at halftime.
Marauders head coach Chris Jones said the game plan was to set the tone for the first 10 minutes of each half. As the second half kicked off, the home side did that.
Olaye scored another try (her fifth in the past two games) while Sophia Cornacchia added another one to give them a 17-6 lead.
“Our communication and our teamwork and always supporting each other on our runs was pretty good,” Jill Cope noted.
The two sides moved the ball up and down the field. However, as McMaster took some penalties, the Badgers scored three unanswered tries to clinch the victory.
“Penalties killed us,” Jones noted. “That’s something that we needed to tidy up. We weren’t able to. They were able to capitalize on those. That’s a tough way to end.”
Jones pointed out how as the penalties mounted, the team couldn’t get back into it.
“Our biggest struggle was we couldn’t play disciplined,” he added. “When you can’t play disciplined, your flow gets broken and you end up struggling.”
Jones said the team will work on discipline and game situations in the offseason. In the present, the Marauders huddled up in a circle after the game as Jones spoke to the group. So did team captain and senior Katie McLeod.
Cope called the moment inspirational. “It was really an emotional circle,” she said. “We’re just looking at how far we’ve come and it was pretty crazy.”
Jones talked about the difference from where they were at the start of the year to now.
Back in the spring, Jones took over as the new head coach – their third head coach in the past three seasons. He earned the trust of his seniors and his players. He talked with McLeod before she made her decision to return from one final season.
Jones talked about how proud he was of the team, their trust in him and their effort. McLeod also talked to the team about how proud she was of the players. “She was just saying how [she] just loves playing with you guys,” Jones recalled.
With the new coach, the players learned the system and much more. Cope pointed out how they molded well together after the first game of the season. After losing to Guelph, they learned about playing together as a team.
They executed their game plan against defending national champions Queen’s despite the loss. They won against York and Brock to close out the regular season. They earned a spot in the U SPORTS Top 10 ranking. In the OUA quarterfinals, they came close to winning a playoff game.
“Let’s build on that instead of seeing it as a negative,” Jones told the team afterwards. McMaster had already been building since the start of the year.
“I think you can see in this game that we really started buying into our systems and trusting each other and trusting our coaches,” Cornacchia said. “And I think it’s a great foundation for the next few years.”
McLeod and the fellow seniors – Vanessa Vogel, Vanessa Webb, Ila Bett and others – helped build that foundation. They’ve done so with their impact on their teammates, coaches and the program overall.
Cope is in her third year of eligibility but first year playing. She remembers how the seniors supported her and the rookies.
“One of our mottos is to leave the jersey better and they really wanted to make their mark and make sure that we are set up for years to come,” she said.
Featured Image: McMaster Athletics