Hamilton, ON- When McMaster Marauders women’s rugby co-captain Malak Aiad stood on the field at Ron Joyce Stadium and thought of her senior’s night, it was bittersweet. A fifth-year senior, Aiad’s last regular season home game was now in the past.
“It’s all a little bittersweet,” Aiad said. “Love the team. Sad to go. But always a Marauder and will always be back.”
Aiad was one of eight players honoured on senior’s night on Sept. 22 for the Marauders. It started with a ceremony for them. It ended with the players on the field with their friends and families after a 37-0 win over the Trent Excalibur. The seniors took a photo together.
Fellow senior Julia Burlaca also called it bittersweet. She doesn’t know if she’ll come back yet next year. “It’s a lot of mixed feelings,” she noted. “I love what we did here tonight but the thought of leaving obviously all makes us really sad.”
What they did was control possession throughout the game, with the ball almost exclusively in Trent’s half. Many of the seniors scored the tries. First Burlaca, then Taylor Wood, then Osa Olaye in the first half. In the second half, it was Jessica MacKinnon and Jill Cope.
They had great defensive speed line pressure, according to Burlaca. McMaster head coach Chris Jones pointed out how they controlled the ball the whole game. Aiad talked about how they worked on communication and eye contact.
The win was a much needed one for McMaster. They won by forfeit last week against the Waterloo Warriors. In response, they quickly scheduled a scrimmage against the Guelph Gryphons. “We didn’t really show up for it,” Jones said of their performance. He added that they felt a bit not in their rhythm, which contributed to it.
In response, the team talked about what it means to play to their best the following week, heading into their game against Trent. “They really showed up this week, so proud of them for doing that,” Jones said.
While the seniors contributed to the win against Trent – and kept them in the playoff race – they’ve made a big impact overall.
Jones credited this year’s and last year’s seniors group as the ones who put their trust in him when he took over as head coach in 2022. They stayed on and have helped the incoming players learn the systems.
“Very grateful to them for their trust in me and this particular group is a pretty fun group,” Jones added. “Got quite a lot of characters…we’ll miss them a lot when they’re gone.”
They’ve helped blend the intensity of practices with having fun, according to Jones – which has really helped their team chemistry.
One of those seniors is Aiad. She’s grown – literally and figurately – over the course of her five years at McMaster.
Aiad came in as playing the same position but not as muscular. When she subbed in during her first year, she called it nerve wracking. “Everything was scary,” she noted.
Five years later, she’s a co-captain and a leader. She’s learned a lot offensively and defensively. She’s seen how this season, the team’s bonded like never before.
In her final year, she served alongside fellow co-captain McKinna Colley. The two of them have played rugby for the past eight years. “So it’s been very natural being co-captains,” Aiad said. “We work really well together. The leadership comes very naturally.”
Aiad called they’ve focused on making sure everyone is dialed in, doing their best and believing in each other. “I’m really proud of both of us,” she said.
She also credited the coaching staff – whom she called the best coaches they’ve ever had. “Their commitment and dedication to Mac rugby is like no other and we love them very much,” Aiad added.
Together, the coaches and players will move forward from seniors’ night into the stretch run of the season. They visit the Toronto Varsity Blues on Sept. 30 before visiting the Queen’s Gaels the following week. A win against Toronto could mean clinching a playoff spot.
Jones said he feels the team is hitting their stride. For Burlaca, the key will be continuing to work on what they’ve done already – their system and keeping the other team in the opposing end. For Aiad, it’s about improving and keeping their momentum going.
“We want to keep moving forward in a positive direction and get those wins so we can make the playoffs,” she said.
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics