Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By Graham West

After an impressive performance against the York Lions, Cassidy Calvert is one of a few upper-year players looking ready to lead McMaster’s women’s rugby team to an incredibly successful season.

Calvert was named Pita Pit Athlete of the Week because of her game against York where the fifth-year hooker had two tries and a very strong on-field presence in which she helped lead the team to victory.

“It’s really nice when you work your butt off for something and you get rewarded for it,” Calvert said. “It’s really nice when people notice when you’re working really hard.”


The team is led by a legion of veterans who know that leadership has to be present on the field in addition to in the locker room, as three of the veterans each scored a pair of tries in the game against the Lions. Yet not all leaders see themselves taking on that role until it is time.

“I’ve always said I’m not really someone who has wanted to be in a captain role,” said Calvert. “A leader role is something that’s so broad I’d rather someone hear my name or see me on the field and go, ‘that’s what I wanna do, that’s someone I want to look up to’.”

It is clear that Calvert and the other veterans intend to lead by example, which is especially important this year as the roster boasts a larger number of first-year players than usual.

Even with a fairly new roster with more new recruits than they have seen in a long time, Calvert still says chemistry is strong. Calvert added that the team has the mentality of cooperating and just putting their heads down for the purpose of winning.

Currently ranked fifth nationally, expectations are high for the Marauders, a feeling shared by the team. Calvert said the rankings are positive but not something the team focuses on. She added that the team is more focused on performing and playing well week in and week out than paying attention to the rankings.

After their huge 57-12 victory against York at the end of August, the women’s rugby team is off to a hot start. They will look to carry this momentum back home when they play Queen’s University on Homecoming weekend. The Gaels fell to two spots lower than Mac on the national rankings, but the Marauders are aware that they are a good team who will pose a tough test.

When asked about their upcoming game Calvert said there is no reason they should not be able to perform the way they did against York in this contest or any game for the remainder of the season. With sights set on the national championship, the team is reaching for the stars, although Calvert says they need to focus on the process first.

“Right now it’s winning [Ontario University Athletics] because you have to win that before,” Calvert said. “You can come second but we don’t want that. You have to win one before you get to the other. We do have a lot of fifth-years this year so I know this is our last hoorah, so it’s something we really want. I know it will be a fight no matter what and I think everyone’s taking it very seriously which is good.”

Calvert shared that the team keeps a phrase in mind throughout the entire season as a motivator: ‘Here for one reason’. That one reason is to win rugby games. Calvert said head coach Tim Doucette uses it as motivation to make sure everyone is giving it their all. It is especially important to veteran players such as Calvert as this is their last year playing university rugby and intend on giving their all to the season ahead.

They will next be representing the maroon and grey against Queen’s on Sept. 15, Homecoming weekend. The women’s rugby team is definitely one of the teams to watch this upcoming athletic season at Mac, with one of their biggest rosters yet, packed full of talent and they definitely have the potential to win it all.

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Newly named head coach of the McMaster women’s rugby team Tim Doucette is no stranger to the Mac rugby program. First moving to Hamilton 11 years ago, Doucette played on the men’s rugby team while earning his degree in business. Immediately after graduating, he was offered a job in the university’s payroll and pension department.

It was at that time when former head coach Cam Mitchell gave him his first coaching opportunity.

“A week before [the women’s] training camp, he asked me if I could give him a hand for the week,” said Doucette.

Without hesitation he agreed, and before he knew it he was being offered a permanent position as an assistant coach.

For the next seven years, Doucette found himself supporting Dr. Mitchell and Shaun Allen, the team’s most recent coach, in several seasons of highs and lows. From winning both the Ontario University Athletics and Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships in the 2015-2016 season, to the tough losses that came in the following year, Doucette was on staff helping to guide the team.

Redesigning the mindset of the program is one of Doucette’s main goals coming into his new role.

“We have had this little lull over the past two years,” said Doucette. “Now the athletes again are starting to build up fire and realize that this is not where we want to be. We are building back towards championships and back towards having success.”

In order to do this Doucette is adamant on being very vocal about the team’s goals for the season to come.

“I think it’s very important to define what we are trying to do, how we are trying to do it and how we want to be perceived while we are doing it,” said Doucette. “We've started that conversation and making sure to have that open dialogue from the athletes to the coaches.”

Implementing any fundamental changes to the program is not in Doucette’s immediate plans. Instead, rugby’s new head coach is focusing on keeping everyone involved with the program on the same page.

“As we’re having these team discussions, I really believe that everyone is getting back on to the same page,” said Doucette. “ These conversations have me looking forward to competing in the top spot and continuing to have success.”

Maintaining that open dialogue with his players is important for Doucette. As a former Marauder, he understands more than most what it takes to be a student athlete.

“The experiences I had as an athlete in school, like trying to balance athletics, school, community service, relationships, and family are the same experiences that these girls are going through as well,” Doucette said.

As the manager of the human resources team at McMaster’s Children Hospital, Doucette has the privilege of getting to support some of his athletes not just on the field, but can also help them in the classroom.

“It’s very neat for me when I have our fourth athletes in nursing pop by the office and say hi or tell me about what they're learning,” said Doucette. “It helps me connect with the athletes in a different way than I did before, and I think they appreciate that as well.”

This new role is nothing Doucette cannot handle. He’s passionate not just for the sport but also for each individual player on the roster. Add this passion to his experience as a player and a coach, it ensures that the future of McMaster women’s rugby is in good hands.

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As students spent time adjusting to the new semester, the week of Jan. 8 was also the beginning of one of McMaster Athletics’ most highly anticipated events. Athletes from different sports brought out their pink accessories for Think Pink, a week-long fundraiser in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation.

Think Pink started as an initiative by the University of Waterloo’s women’s basketball team. Over the last seven years, it has expanded to include multiple varsity teams who host recreational activities and other fundraising events for the entire Canadian university community.

For McMaster, the initiative is spearheaded by Mac Athletes Care, a group of student-athletes from a variety of varsity teams who connect with young people through sport on a weekly basis. For the week of Jan. 8 however, they traded their mentoring obligations in for fundraising efforts to join other Canadian university programs.

The team started off the week with their “Photo Booth Kick-Off”, which occurred alongside McMaster’s Athletics and Recreation partner Royal Bank of Canada’s “Someday Wish” wall where students could write on to enter in a draw to win $1,000.

For “Toonie Tuesday”, a variety of activities took place, each costing. Games included a 100 square where students could pick a number and win one of four different gift cards and a couple of candy jar guesses. These games could also be enjoyed with cookies sold by the fundraising team. This was followed up by a fan favourite: throwing pies in coaches’ and support staff’s faces on Jan. 10.

Unfortunately, Jan 18 “Dodge For A Cause” was unable to run due to the lack of participants but a Jan. 19 Fun-Fair and donation and raffle booths at the volleyball and basketball games this past weekend rounded up the week’s festivities to end on a high note.

Leading Mac Athletes Care as head coordinator for Think Pink is fourth-year computer engineering student and women’s rugby player Mackenzie Weins. While Weins has spent the last four years volunteering for the program, this was her first year in charge as the program coordinator.

“During last year’s Think Pink, I spent the whole weekend with former coordinator Gabriel Ghiglione and really loved it,” said Weins. “I remember telling Nicole, the school’s CBCAF liaison, ‘Don’t put anyone else down! I’m running Think Pink’,” said Weins. “So I started compiling ideas and sending them to her and she would be like ‘Okay [Mackenzie] you got it!’ and with her support it has been running really smooth ever since.”

Weins came into the week having experience working in event planning with the City of Niagara, special events and assisting with logistical planning for the women’s rugby team, so she was more than prepared to lead her team.

For Weins being able to give back through Mac Athletes Care is an experience like no other.

“The Living Rock, the first place I volunteered, gave me an opportunity to meet people completely different from myself, which really made me aware of the privilege I have being not just a university student, but a student-athlete” said Weins.

Being able to support The Living Rock or the CBCAF to help give to people in need is an opportunity that Weins does not take for granted.

“What [the CBCAF] offers to women and their families is really incredible,” said Weins. “So to be able to be as fortunate as we are as student-athletes with the opportunities that we’ve been given, the least we can do is support such an awesome cause.”

“I know for me, sport has been something that has kept me grounded and confident to live my life and to go for it, so I attack fundraising the same way I attack rugby,” Weins added. “I tell everybody I’m the least talented person on the team but because I look at film, I go to every practice and I work out, it makes up for it. I’ve actually had the privilege to start for the last two years.”

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="77" gal_title="Think Pink 2018"]

Tackling the Think Pink campaign with the same intensity as she tackles rugby preparation has helped her lead Mac Athletes Care to raise approximately $10,000 for the cause.

Also in support of the cause, the basketball and volleyball teams wore “Just Cure It” t-shirts and used pink tape during their games this weekend. Both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams were able to win their Friday game against the Brock University Badgers and the University of Windsor Lancers on Saturday.

Another big win from the Think Pink weekend came from the women’s basketball team, who defeated the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks 81-59 to give them a four-game winning streak. Unfortunately the men’s basketball team was unable to keep up with the Golden Hawks and trailed throughout the game, losing 79-64 to leave them at a disappointing 2-12 record.

Overall the successful weekend was just one of many great initiatives run by Mac Athletes Care that gets student-athletes involved in the Hamilton community. Giving them an opportunity to use the skills they learn in their respective sports and the platform varsity athletics give them and apply them to help others in need.

The McMaster women’s rugby team took home the Ontario University Athletics bronze medal on Sept. 20 after a tough but well-fought battle against the York Lions.

The 36-19 win at Ron Joyce Stadium was the first win of the post-season after an unfortunate 15-20 loss to the Queen’s University’s Gaels in the OUA semi-finals. Though the team would have loved to have been able to win the silver or gold medal, they were more than satisfied with their bronze medal performance.

“This wasn’t the game we wanted to be in,” said Sara Svoboda who had been named, for a second year in a row, the Shiels Division Player of the Year the day before.

“Obviously we wanted to go for that OUA gold medal and have a spot at nationals, but I feel like the girls rallied around each other really well,” said Svoboda. “We put together a performance we can proud of and I think we ended the year on a high note.”

The Marauders’ performance started off with a slow start, as Megan Pakulis of the Lions was the first out of the two teams to score shortly after the game began. The Marauders responded quickly with an unconverted try of their own, bringing the lead to 7-5.

The Lions remained with the lead until freshman wing Khadija Brouillette broke out past the York players, running a nearly 50-yard try right under the posts. Svoboda followed the try with a successful convert, evening the game at 12.

Reminding the Lions why they were ranked second in the regular season in the Shiels Division, centre Britni French’s try brought the Marauders to lead the game 17-12 right before the halftime break.

Along with another penalty try from Brouillette, Svoboda, Maddi Cohoon and Taylor Price all contributed to the Marauders’ score sheet.

“We had a few goals going into today's game and I think we accomplished a few of those,” said French post game. “We were aggressive, we came out and they scored on us but we gave it right back to them.”

After the game, the team celebrated the win with their family, friends and fellow Mac athletes. Rookie player Brouillette was more than happy with the outcome of her first OUA medal game.

“I think we did fantastic,” said Brouillette. “I’m so glad to be a rookie and part of the McMaster family. I love my team and can’t wait to come here for the next few years.”

Along with the team celebrating the win, they also celebrated Svoboda, French, Cassidy Calvert, and Selena Sequin being named 2017 Women’s Rugby OUA All-Stars.

Though their season just came to an end, the team's focus is already on the next season. Over the next 10 months, they plan to evaluate what they need to do to get to the back to the gold level before they begin training camp in August 2018.

“In the next 10 months were going to work as hard as we can to get as strong, fast and as precise at tackling as we can,” said Brouillette. “So when we come out next season, they’re not going to know what to expect!”

“[We’ll also] hit the weight room,” added French. “The High Performance Area is our home, so we’re going to put in all the work that we can up there for the offseason.”

However, before this preparation begins, the next couple of weeks will be spent on reflecting and reviewing the 2017 season. As the Marauders set their sights on the Canadian University Sevens Championships in March, the team still has work to do.

By: Andrew Sarkis

The McMaster women’s rugby season came to an end on Sept. 29, losing to the division-leading Guelph Gryphons. In a head-to-head matchup between the number one and two ranked teams in the Shiels Division, the Gryphons came out on top, outscoring the Marauders 35-19 at Ron Joyce Stadium and putting the women’s team’s undefeated bid to a halt.

A year removed from finishing with a perfect record, it was not how the women’s team envisioned ending the season, but nevertheless, the Marauders capped off a successful four-game stint.

McMaster players Khadijah Brouillete, Maddie Cohoon and Britni French each had tries for the Marauders and kickstarted the offensive push, leading their team into the halftime break down 14-7. The game started to pick up, as both Cohoon and French intercepted Guelph passes, breaking away to score during the later parts of the game, although Guelph held a 28-19 lead and controlled play until the conclusion of the game.

The Marauders’ chance at a perfect season was diminished largely in part due to Guelph’s third-year fly half Julia Schell, who scored 15 points on the night. Schell scored one try and added five conversions, with her most important try coming at the later stages of the game, sealing the win for the Gryphons and leading them past the Marauders by a 16-point margin. Guelph finished the season undefeated, and made a statement on the Shiels Division, claiming the top seed.

Centre Britni French says she does not think much went wrong for the Marauders, mentioning the game against Guelph as being a tough and fair matchup.

“I don’t think anything went particularly wrong,” said French. “I think we had a great game… I don’t think they’re any better of a team than we are. It was a tough match up and we had a tough game against Queen’s the weekend before. Some people were pretty banged up… none of us are unhappy with the way that we played.”

The women’s team enjoyed a successful season due in part to many players evenly contributing to the team’s prolific offence. Over the course of their four games, the Marauders totalled 121 points and outscored their opponents in winning games by an average margin of 17 points.

“I think we play a very dynamic style of play. In rugby, a lot of teams tend to lean towards a typical punch it up forward, dominant game,” French said. “But I think we have a nice mix between using our forwards in an appropriate manner to punch the line, or using them out wide because of their great passing skills. We have some pretty speedy girls on the outside on the wing, so they’ve been super beneficial this year.”

A main factor, and large part of the team’s success, was eight-man Sara Svoboda, who led the charge offensively for the team over the year, finishing second in Ontario University Athletics scoring with four tries and 11 conversions on the season.

French says the team does not rely on any individual to carry the burden, though, citing overall teamwork as a key to their success.

“I wouldn’t say one individual stands out more than others,” French said. “Obviously, people put in a lot of work. I think in rugby, it’s such a team sport that I wouldn’t say our team is successful because of one or two people. I think it’s because everyone does their job and is doing it properly on the field.”

With the season now in the rear-view mirror, the Marauders are sitting comfortably as the second seed in the Shiels Division and are now shifting their focus towards the upcoming post-season.

As per the OUA playoff competitive structure, McMaster will have a bye through the quarterfinals as a benefit of finishing amongst the top two seeds in their division.

A total of six teams, the top four seeds in the Shiels Division and top two seeds in the Russell Division will qualify for the post-season. As two teams will be receiving a bye through to the semi-finals, only two quarter-final matches will be played, slated for Oct. 7. The semi-finals will be played on Oct. 14 with the ultimate champion of the OUA being crowned on Oct. 21.

The Guelph Gryphons and Brock Badgers pose interesting challenges to the Marauders. The Badgers present their own set of challenges and have yet to face off against the Mac women.

In the Russell Division, the Badgers have dominated games, finishing the season undefeated and outscoring their opponents by an astounding margin of 352-24. Their star player, rookie fly back Meagan Hart, concluded the season atop the OUA scoring with one try and 23 conversions. Brock will be matched up in the quarter-finals against the York Lions, with their eyes set on facing Guelph in the next round.

Though intensity is sure to pick up during the post-season, the team’s preparation will not be much different than to that of the regular season.

“We’ll look at a little more film to prepare for the most part,” French said. “I think we’ll focus more on ourselves and look at the few areas of the game we haven’t had a chance to focus on yet in practice.”

Looking to avenge their previous season’s second place post-season finish against Guelph, it is safe to say the Marauders will be highly motivated for their upcoming game. Led by a top scorer in Sara Svoboda and surrounded by a team hungry for success, it will be quite a telling tale to see just how far this team can go.

Time will tell as to who the Marauders’ semi-final opponent will be on Oct. 14, as they will await the results of the quarter-final matchup between the Laurier Golden Hawks and Queen’s Gaels. Either way, Mac is well-poised to end off their high-flying 2017 season with a strong playoff run.

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The Western Mustangs had hopes of capturing their first win of the season as they hosted the Marauders on Sept. 16, but McMaster quickly ruined any plans the home team had. The Mustangs’ winless season would continue on the pitch at Alumni Field as Mac moved on to a season without any losses.

Western’s hopes were dashed largely thanks to eight-man Sara Svoboda, who contributed 16 points of her own to the Marauders’ 26 unanswered points. With two tries and three conversions, Svoboda led the way in another dominant win for the Marauders in their young season and was awarded the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week for her efforts.

This season, the women’s rugby team have already out-scored opponents 81-36, and they show no sign of slowing down. They are currently halfway through their four game regular season and are likely to once again go far in the Ontario University Athletics post-season this fall.

But no team can rest on their laurels too long, as next up for the Mac women is a road match against the Queen’s Gaels. Traveling to Kingston, the Marauders will play a Queen’s team that is also coming off of a two-game winning streak, out-scoring their opponents by a large margin of 88-24 in those victories.

The Gaels currently sit two points ahead of Mac at first place in the Shiels Division, so this game is imperative to win for playoff positioning. However, the Gaels have also played one extra game than the Marauders, a 38-31 loss to the Guelph Gryphons.

Winning this game would help the Marauders capture first place in their division with Guelph hot on their tails.

Led by rookie flanker Sophie de Goede, the Gaels will pose a threat to the Marauders’ perfect season at Nixon Field this Saturday. Boasting 32 points of her own, de Goede is ranked third in the province in individual points scored, and is only one point away from having the most points in the OUA.

Queen’s will look to stop the surging Marauders for a strong season finale and will have to rely on players like de Goede to do so. The Marauders will have to keep an extra eye out for their opponent’s star flanker who was also named OUA Female Athlete of the Week for Sept. 13.

The women’s rugby team have already out-scored opponents 81-36, and they show no sign of slowing down.

So far this season, the Marauders have done an excellent job of having a balanced attack on offence with different players contributing to the score sheet in every game. For the Marauders, the offence will likely rely again on the scoring of Sara Svoboda, who leads the team with 31 points out of the team’s 81 this season, and is sitting in fourth in OUA scoring.

Last year, the team fell short of OUA gold and finished sixth in a disappointing U Sports tournament thanks largely to a knee injury suffered by team captain Katie Svoboda. However, this year the team shows no signs of slowing down.

Working on integrating a set of fresh-faced athletes this season, the team has not let it effect their development on the pitch and are consistently outplaying every team they are playing, making few vital mistakes if any.

The Marauders are one of three teams that still remain undefeated, along with Brock and Guelph. If the Marauders and Gryphons both continue their spotless records this week, they will face off in a contentious season finale that will leave one team with their first loss of the season.

While the regular season just started at the beginning of this month, it will soon be over and time for the post-season. The Marauders promise to keep fans entertained with a long and successful campaign ahead of them.

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While students all over campus were trying to find their new classrooms, the McMaster athletic year was already well under way. Showcasing key Marauders every seven days, the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week highlighted centre Britni French of the Marauders’ women’s rugby team, along with the football team’s defensive back Noah Hallett.

The women’s rugby team opened up their 2017 campaign with a dominating win over the York Lions, emphatically handing the Lions their first loss of the season. The Marauders, led by French, looked back to championship form under the lights at Ron Joyce Stadium on Sept. 3 and never gave the visiting team a chance to overtake them.

“We went into the game and our focus was to just go for it,” French said. “We are all about words, and our word for that game was punish. We wanted to punish them. We wanted them to go home and not want to play us again. I think we accomplished that throughout.”

"We are all about words, and our word for that game was 'punish'. We wanted to punish them.


Britini French
McMaster Rugby

French was responsible for kicking off a 50-0 run for the Marauders with an early try, and contributed greatly on both sides of the ball. Entering her fourth season on the team, French is part of a leadership core of senior players determined to run through every team in their path while showing the newest team members how the women’s rugby program operates.

“We have a leadership group going on right now, myself and a few other athletes on the team,” she said. “We are working together to create a positive environment and show some leadership on the field, not just in a spoken way but also by the way we play. The role I like to take is not so much the talking responsibility, I would rather show through the way I play.”

It will be important for senior players like French to lead by example on the field this season if they hope to regain their former glory. Following a tough season that ended in a loss to the Guelph Gryphons in the Ontario University Athletics Championship and an early exit in the U Sports Championship Tournament, the team has a new group of fresh faces to integrate into the team.

“We have a very young team, and our biggest challenge right now is not being caught up in that, realizing that those first-year players are just as great as our fourth-year players,” said French. “I think over our training camp, we really saw that. As the week went on, those people who were coming in as first-year athletes were then stepping into more dominant rules throughout the training session. That was awesome to see and something to keep working towards.”

Already, this young Marauder team appears to be on the right path to return to the OUA Finals and also have a good showing in the national tournament. There are still three more games to play in the rugby regular season and it is by no means an easy road, yet the Marauders have their sights set high.

“I would really like to see us in an OUA Final again, hopefully coming out on the winning side this year,” French said. “That is a goal of mine. As well as just helping this first-year athletes to continue to grow into the program.”

One key rookie on the team is Tia Svoboda whose sisters both play for the Marauders as well, and is already making a name for herself on the team, noted a pair of tries against the Lions and leading the group of incoming players who look to make an impact on a successful program.

The next team in their way is the Western Mustangs, who they will face on Sept 15 at 5 p.m. While the Marauders enjoyed a bye week during which they were able to focus more on core aspects of their game, they will maintain the same mantra while in London.

“We’ve been thinking of that one word and how we got to punch up the line and make them feel punished for playing us.”

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For swimmer and fourth-year biology student Victoria Giglio, staying busy is just a way of life.

“I find that by keeping busy and doing multiple things, it helps me take a break from a previous task, said Giglio. “If I am feeling overwhelmed, it allows me return to something with a better mindset.”

The coach of the Dundas Seahawks Special Olympics swim team, a Mac Athletes Care executive and a Physical Activity Centre for Excellence aquatics program volunteer, Giglo certainly has lots of opportunity to switch up what she is working on.

But she also has a chance to use her own experience in the pool to make a positive impact for others.

“I think that sports and community service definitely teach some of the same lessons,” said Giglio. “As a veteran on a team and in a leadership role volunteering, I can provide my knowledge and experience to younger athletes and community members. It has made me a better leader, and given me the ability to work as a group towards a common goal.”

Giglo was one of four McMaster students nominated for the Les Prince award, an annual title given to varsity athletes demonstrated outstanding community service. Nominated by their respective coaching staff, each nominee has spilt their time representing Mac on the field and off, contributing to volunteer initiatives in the greater Hamilton area.

This year the Les Prince Award was presented to women’s hockey team captain Michelle Biehl, in honor of her outstanding contributions to the Hamilton community. Biehl has been an active supporter of several community initiatives including Boys and Girls Clubs kids to campus trips, Think Pink to benefit breast cancer, and the the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport Succeed Clean program.

But finding the balance between community work and sport can be difficult, especially with the stressors of everyday academic life. For fencer and third-year biochemistry student Chris Zhang, figuring out a system that works is an ongoing process.

“Like any other student, that perfect balance is something I’m consistently trying to achieve,” said Zhang. “I don’t think I’ve found it yet. I find it difficult to assign strict priorities because my sport, my volunteering and my academics are all very important to me… It is the difficult choices we make in these experiences that define the type of experience we have.”

When he isn’t leading the sabre team to team a silver finish at the Ontario University Athletics championships, Zhang has looked to define his time at Mac by volunteering with the Good Food Box program and the Good Shepherd Christmas Toy Drive. He has also organized fencing demonstrations for the Hamilton community, and worked with Mac Athletes Care throughout the year.

“Sports and community service have provided me with an opportunity to look at life from a different perspective,” said Zhang. “it gets very easy to get lost in a world of studying, testing and grades… volunteering with causes I believe in is a chance to try and step out and try to make the world a better place… [it reminds me] that there is more that can be learned in life then what [we are] simply taught.”

Another alumna of the Mac Athletes Care program, Lydia Hicks has her earned her fair share of life lessons.

“When I find activities that I really love, like rugby and Mac Athletes Care, it’s pretty hard for me to say no to them,” said Hicks. “I think [it] has actually allowed for better time management for schoolwork, because they force me to be productive and get work done in the time gaps that I have. I actually find that when don’t have activities in my week… I’m less productive and I procrastinate more!”

A third-year Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior student, Hicks doesn’t have much time on her hands to waste. But the days she has spent interacting with community members has taught to cherish the simpler things in life. Whether it is sports or volunteering, for Hicks, it all comes down the human connection.

“Everyone goes through his or her own personal battles, and it’s important to establish some sort of network of support to fall back on when you need it,” said Hicks.

“On the rugby team, I have amazing teammates and coaches, and we are always there to listen and support each other whenever we need it. [With volunteering] I’ve had the chance to establish some really great connections with youth who are going through struggles of their own. Even if it’s just a small conversation with someone, that can be an opportunity to help them to get through… and potentially make their day a little bit brighter.”

For all they have done, the McMaster community is certainly a little brighter for this year nominees. Let’s hope they stay busy.

By: Eamon Hillis

For the McMaster women’s rugby squad, the 2016 season came to a disappointing conclusion on Nov. 6 at the University Sports Championships, held in Victoria, BC.  The U Sports tournament ran from Nov. 3-6 and hosted an impressive field of teams. The Marauders were looking to repeat their 2015 gold medal performance, but were unsuccessful.

“The teams were very good this year, and the road to the championship was incredibly difficult,” head coach Shaun Allen said. “The top four teams were all undefeated and conference champions. The field was perhaps a little stronger than last year.”

Mac came in to the tournament seeded seventh of eight, with the first four seeds allocated to the winner of each conference: St. Francis Xavier, Calgary, Ottawa, and Guelph (who defeated Mac in the Ontario University Athletics Championship). The remaining four seeds were assigned according to regulations, which state that teams from the same conference must be on the opposite sides of the tournament bracket. Thus, Mac was left with the difficult task of facing the second-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees in the opening round.

This game against Ottawa was undoubtedly their most important, for failing to be victorious would eliminate any chance for McMaster to medal. Ottawa had dominated the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec conference throughout the season, finishing 7-0 and entering the tournament with confidence.

Unfortunately, McMaster lost the competitive match 25-19, with both teams performing exceptionally well under the pressure. The Gee-Gees took the lead late with three consecutive tries in the second half, putting Mac in a desperate situation. The Marauders responded however with a try from Maddy Seatle, which was converted by Steph Black.  Despite their efforts, it would turn out to be in vain as Ottawa would hold onto their lead.

“For the first five minutes of the match we played the best rugby we’ve played the entire season,” Allen said. “Our players showed an ability to play a style of rugby no other team at nationals were playing this year, which was to choose to move the ball and exploit the base. Unfortunately, we dealt with teams that kept it very tight and maintained good possession. The number of tackles we had to make across the three games was very high.”

With the loss to Ottawa, Mac was guaranteed two more consolation games set to take place Saturday and Sunday. They won 24-5 against Acadia. In the consolation finals on Sunday however, Mac faced Concordia where they lost 29-22.

It marked the end of a season that showed moments of great promise, and a warranted ambition to repeat as national champions. Their last two weeks of competition included a close loss to Guelph and, in the same game, the loss of Captain Katie Svoboda to a knee injury.  Svoboda’s injury had a notable impact on team moral going into the U Sports tournament.

“She was a leader for us all season long, as our captain, but also in regard to her role in our system,” Allen said. “She is an extremely talented rugby player, and with her getting injured in the OUA final, it had an immediate effect both in that game and afterwards. It was something that we had to manage this week.  We had to deal with the emotional stresses of that, as well as determining who will step up to take Katie’s place.”

Svoboda will return next season in what will be her fourth year of eligibility.  She will be leading a younger group of women, with potentially many changes from this year.

“The true fifth-years that will definitely be leaving are: Steph Black, Rachel Van Fraassen, and Lauren Walkden,” Allen said. “There is also a group of fourth-year players that are graduating with their degrees. We will see how many will choose to return.”

With the prospect of losing key players, Coach Allen is very confident in his program and its ability to develop younger players.

“I firmly believe that we have the best strength and conditioning program in the country,” Allen said. “The access they have to world class strength and conditioning is incredible, and we have a group of very talented first-year players right now.”

Mac finishes this season slightly disappointed in their sixth placed result, but will be looking to future years with hopefulness and vehemence.

It was always going to be a tough match.

The Ontario University Athletics championship game pitted the two remaining undefeated teams in the league. Having dominated their respective divisions, McMaster and Guelph had yet to face each other this season, and there were high expectations of top-class rugby coming into the match.

Last year, Mac conquered Guelph in the OUA championship game, and proceeded to win the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship a week later. However, in front of a packed Ron Joyce Stadium, the Mac women were unable to repeat as champions, losing to the Gryphons 24-7 in a physical battle.
In the first real test for the Marauders this season, the pace of play from Guelph was significantly faster and more polished than they had faced so far. Any time Mac made a mistake, whether it was a knock-on or giving up penalties, the Gryphons were able to capitalize, gaining significant field position and converting opportunities into points.

“Their forward pack is the best forward pack we’ve played this year, [and] they were able to put us under pressure,” head coach Shaun Allen said after the game. “Their lineout was very good; they were able to get quality possession from that. Both teams got some scrum penalties, but I would say overall that they probably won that fight. We didn’t respond to their physicality the way that we as a group would’ve wanted to if we played them again.”
Things were made more difficult at the 11-minute mark, where OUA All-star flanker Katie Svoboda went down with a lower body injury after receiving a pass from her sister Sara on a breakaway.

From that point, Guelph broke through the Mac defense, leading to three straight tries and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. The Gryphons had plenty of strong runners, especially in their forward pack, and were able to break down McMaster’s defence thanks to solid runs from the ruck and quick ball movement from the breakdown.

“For about 10 minutes there we went pretty passive,” Allen said. “We weren’t coming forward in defence; we were allowing some of their ball carriers to run at us. It’s pretty hard to make quality tackles when you’re letting players run at you. By not coming forward, they were able to manipulate our defence a little bit and create some space.”

Mac’s defense has been sturdy all year, posting plenty of shutouts and playing fluidly as a cohesive unit. But against Guelph they were uncharacteristically sloppy, attempting arm tackles and going high rather than displaying the disciplined tackling they have done all season.

The Marauders were able to score a try at the end of the first half to cut the lead to 10, but were unable to muster any offence in the second half. Most of the play took place in Mac’s end, where Guelph was constantly knocking on the door, and threatened to widen the game even more. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of possession, Mac gave up costly penalties that eventually led to two yellow cards to fly-half Steph Black and scrum-half Lauren Walkden. Being down to 14 players for 20 minutes doesn’t help any comeback attempt, and hurt Mac’s attempt at closing the gap.

“We probably got frustrated in the second half that we didn’t have more possession,” Allen said. “We were looking to turn the ball over before it was ready to be turned over. We didn’t change our behavior based on what the referee was calling. Whether we agree with that or not, she’s the one that’s in charge of the game.Despite the loss, Mac’s season is not over yet. They are currently training in Victoria, B.C., and will be looking to defend their national title in the U Sports championship tournament. Practice will be light, but there should be enough time to refocus.

“We’ve got three games to play next week, so it’s how we are going to rebound and recover, and what things we are going to do between now and next Thursday to put this [loss] behind us,” Allen said of their practice schedule for next week. “A lot of it is going to be focused on recovery and seeing where we are at in terms of personnel and injuries and all that, and go from there.”

While disappointed with the loss, the McMaster women’s team knows what top competition looks like, they are sure to focus on cleaning up their mistakes and practicing to a level where they can not only compete with the top teams in the country, but also conquer the best and get back on top of the rugby summit.

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