The Marauders’ perfect record did not survive their trip to Guelph, but their season itself is far from over.
Losing for the first time this season, the McMaster women's rugby team fell to the Guelph Gryphons 36-5 in the OUA Championship on Oct. 29.
Played on the Saturday night at Varsity Field, the game marked the toughest test the dominant Gryphons have faced all season. By reaching the final, both teams had already claimed their place at the CIS tournament, to be held in Peterborough on November 3-6.
The Marauders came into the match with a 7-0 record, having earned a CIS tournament berth by defeating the Brock Badgers in the OUA semifinal. It will be the program’s first appearance on the national stage since the tournament’s inception in 1998.
OUA All-Star Natasha Turner scored the lone try for the Maroon and Grey on the day, as the Gryphon's attack proved to be too strong to be denied for long. After pinning Guelph in their end early, the Marauders were unable to capitalize on a cold night that saw numerous ball-handling errors.
The Gryphons were able to turn defence into offence, and the second-ranked team in the nation did not look back. The title is the Gryphons fourth in a row and 11th since it was first contested in 1994.
Both teams will venture to Peterborough this weekend to compete at the CIS Championships. The Trent Excalibur, who were knocked out of the OUA playoffs early by the Queen's Gaels, will also compete as hosts, giving the province three representatives at the tournament.
Rounding out the competition are the top-ranked St. Francis Xavier X-Women (the AUS champions), the Laval Rouge et Or (RSEQ champions) and the Lethbridge Pronghorns (Canada West champions).
The X-Women have been ranked first in the nation all season long, and defeated Acadia 60-0 in the Atlantic final for their 14th straight conference title. Lethbridge also enjoyed a dominant undefeated season, culminating with a 41-0 shutout of Alberta in the title match. The title was their sixth in a row.
Laval is yet another undefeated champion heading to Ontario, having beaten Concordia 43-27 in the RSEQ final.
Trent is hosting the tournament for the second year in a row, and will look to improve on their 0-3 mark posted last year.
St. Francis Xavier will be looking to defend their 2010 title, and earn their third overall. Lethbridge looks to return to the winner’s circle after winning three titles in a row, from 2007 to 2009.
Pool A will consist of St. FX, Trent and Lethbridge, while McMaster, Laval and Guelph will play in Pool B. This setup guarantees a rematch of the OUA final between the Marauders and Gryphons.
The fifth place, bronze medal and gold medal games will be played on Nov. 6. Matches will be live-streamed on SSN Canada.
For the first time, the McMaster women’s rugby will play in the CIS Championships.
After earning a semi-final victory last weekend, Mac has earned a spot in the OUA final and clinching a berth in at nationals for the first time in the program’s history.
They’ll face powerhouse Guelph, the only other undefeated team on the year, on Saturday for the title.
Mac’s historic victory is thanks to a 31-10 victory over the Badgers at Back Ten Field on Oct. 22, a comprehensive win that saw a balanced performance from McMaster prove too much for the overmatched Badgers.
Facing better conditions when compared to last week's rainy and cold match, the teams traded possession for the first ten minutes, with the Badgers surprising the heavily favoured Marauders with strong ball play.
The Maroon and Grey offence was not to be denied for long though, as Natasha Turner broke numerous tackles on her way to a try, with rookie Cindy Nelles kicking the convert. The Marauder women soon settled into a rhythm, pushing play consistently into Brock territory.
After a Nelles penalty kick, Turner scampered for her second try of the day. Yet another successful convert from Nelles meant that Mac would take a comfortable 17-0 lead into the half.
The second half saw much of the same for the Marauders. Turner would score her third try of the match off a throw-in, and Claire Lockhart would cap off the day with a try of her own, thanks to a brilliant run from Alex Fairgreive. Nelles would finish a perfect four for four kicking converts.
While the game finished comfortably for the home side, it took some time for the team to kick into high gear. Following the win, coach Cam Mitchell spoke about his team’s slow start and their resilience.
“I think that we played very well. Our first ten minutes was a bit rough, they came and stole a lot of balls on contact, so it took us a while to adjust,” said Mitchell. “I was very proud of what the girls did after ten minutes.”
Lockhart would also draw praise from her coach for her tackling on the day, which saw the Marauders earn another playoff shutout, after blanking Toronto the previous week. The coach discussed his team's recent defensive success.
“We've played the exact same system all year,” he explained. “We've always had good tackling, it's just that the system's come together and things have tightened up, so if one person misses a tackle we're there to help them now.”
Indeed, the Marauders have been using the same system all year, a system that has been spearheaded by captain Maggie Cogger-Orr. Mitchell spoke to the importance the third year fly half has had.
“Maggie basically holds everything together,” said the coach of his captain. “She makes all the decisions out there, she calls the plays, basically I help develop the system but on the field I try and shut up and let her run things and she does a very good job.”
The Marauder offence was led by the usual suspects, including Turner, Kim Ngai and Nelles. The coach applauded their performance, noting the impact the players have had.
“It's huge because it makes simple plays work very well,” said Mitchell. “We don't run too much fancy stuff, we just stack our athletes against their athletes, and I think we have a pretty favourable comparison.”
As the match ended, many Marauder veterans were visibly emotional as they realized it would be their last match on Back Ten Field. However, there is still rugby to be played, as the team has booked a date with the four-time defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons.
The Gryphons hosted Queen's in the other semifinal, and in a form true to their season-long dominance, Guelph shut out the Gaels 50-0. Queen's simply had no answer for the attack and defensive strength of the Gryphons, who showed why they have owned the OUA and were ranked second in the nation after the regular season.
A McMaster-Guelph final has long seemed inevitable, with both teams running the table in the regular season. Fans of OUA rugby will undoubtedly be watching the two best teams in the province battle for supremacy, with two unbeaten teams going head-to-head.
The match will be played at Guelph's Varsity Field on Oct. 29 at 6 p.m.
Coach Mitchell explained his strategy for taking on such a daunting opponent in one word.
“Pressure. They are a very good offensive team, they put up a lot of points. We just want to put them under pressure, make them make mistakes and see how they are in a game against a more evenly matched team,” the coach explained.
While the semi-final win guarantees a historic berth at Nationals, Mitchell said his team is focused on the OUA title game first and foremost.
“We're looking at the OUA Championship first, and we'll worry about Nationals next week,” he said.
For those interested in being on hand for the OUA final, a fan bus will be travelling to Guelph on Oct. 29, under the direction of McMaster’s Department of Athletics and Recreation. Tickets for the trip are $5.
The McMaster Marauders are off the to OUA semifinals in spectacular fashion.
The women's rugby squad dominated in cold and rainy conditions Back Ten Field on Oct. 15, crushing the Toronto Varsity Blues 48-0. The victory marks the team’s first shutout of the season, and earns them a spot in the provincial semifinals against the Brock Badgers.
Natasha Turner opened the scoring for the Marauders, with Maggie Cogger-Orr taking charge with two tries of her own to push to lead to 19-0. Kim Ngai capped off the half with a score of her own, and the Maroon and Grey took a 24-0 lead into halftime.
The second half began with 20 minutes of back-and-forth play, as both teams were handicapped by high winds and rain. The Marauders would finally break through as Turner ran for two tries in ten minutes.
Ngai and Emily Ricketts added insurance as Turner converted on a kick for the first time on the day, much to the delight of the McMaster sideline. The convert was to be the last play of the game, as a relieved Turner raised her hands with the referee’s whistle, mercifully ending a dominating performance by the Marauders.
Following his team’s win, Cam Mitchell spoke about how it felt to claim his first playoff victory as a rookie head coach.
“It was a bit of a relief,” said Mitchell. “I knew that Toronto wouldn't be the same team we played before and I think they came out with a bit more flash out wide, but the conditions really helped us and we were able to handle it.
“I'm very happy. This is the first game of the year in which we haven't allowed any points, so that was very big for us.”
The defensive performance was clearly important to a team that has dominated on offence all season long, but had yet to earn a shut out.
“Going forward we want to keep doing this,” Mitchell remarked. “We know we're going to have a lot better opposition to face. So it's about doing the same things we've been doing, just a little sharper because the opposition is going to be better.”
The coach praised the performance of two defenders in particular.
“We played tons of defence and Lindsay Turner made some very big tackles, as well as Stephanie Baron, who came in as a substitute for us.”
Mitchell also spoke about the consistency he has instilled in his team.
“We've basically done the same thing we've done all year. For defence we didn't have any little mistakes, so we didn't give away any points, so that was the biggest thing we can take away from this game.”
The Marauders defeated the Varsity Blues 68-7 during the regular season. When asked if it was difficult to keep in team playing at a high intensity, knowing they had won so easily just weeks previously, Mitchell praised his squad's focus.
“Once the game started, I didn't worry at all. In practice this week I was worried we wouldn't be quite as intense coming in but I think the women proved me wrong with that,” said Mitchell.
Adding to the playoff atmosphere, the match was played in harsh conditions, which lead to difficulty moving the ball and offensive errors.
“I think if anything [the weather] favoured us because we're definitely stronger in the forwards. They tried to run some stuff out wide that may have been a little easier if it had been better weather but overall it wasn't a huge factor for either of these teams.”
Mitchell's post-game message to his team was simple.
“I just told them that I was very happy with their game, happy we did not allow any points and that we still had a lot of work to do to prepare for the next two weeks,” said Mitchell.
Next, the Marauders will take on the Brock Badgers, who scraped by the Waterloo Warriors 13-0 in triple-overtime.
After two overtime periods solved nothing, the third overtime was played in the form of penalty kicks, with the Badgers converting on their final kick for the victory.
Coach Mitchell and the Marauders will not change anything in preparation for what is a relatively unknown opponent.
“We haven't seen them in a couple years because they're in the other division, but we expect them to be similar to most of the teams we've played,” said Mitchell.
“We're not going to change anything specifically, we'll just play our system and we'll attack where ever we see them being vulnerable on the field.”
That OUA semifinal will be played on Oct. 22 at 12 p.m. on Mac's Back Ten Field.