The Marauders could not possibly ask to round into form at a better time.
With their conference season quickly nearing its conclusion, McMaster finds itself in third position in the OUA West following two key home wins over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Marauders had endured an up and down campaign for much of the season, unable to maintain momentum and build up the sort of winning streak necessary to lock up a top playoff position.
But in consecutive shutout victories over the York Lions and Guelph Gryphons on Oct. 7 and 9 respectively, McMaster may have found the winning formula they’ve been searching for.
The Maroon and Grey began their long weekend on Oct. 7 against the Lions and clinched a 1-0 win thanks to a 78th minute strike from veteran forward Tara Dawdy and a well-ordered defensive effort in front of goalkeeper Brittany Duffey.
McMaster would continue to exhibit similar play two days later, clinching yet another clean sheet against the Guelph Gryphons at Ron Joyce Stadium. Defender Alyssa Fenuta provided an early tally for the Marauders before Tara Dawdy added her second goal of the weekend on a well-taken half volley in the second half.
Once again, the hosts would be stingy in defence, and secured Duffey’s second consecutive clean sheet upon the final whistle. The sophomore keeper’s achievement earned her recognition as this week’s McMaster Female Athlete of the Week.
With only three games remaining on their conference schedule and a record of 6-4-1, the Marauders find themselves in a dogfight for second place in the OUA West Division.
That situation has only been made possible by the team’s newfound form, and team captain Melanie van der Hoop explains that her team’s success is a result of their improved individual performances.
“It’s not only the familiarity with the system, but the consistency of the players as well,” the veteran midfielder said in attributing the Marauders’ winning ways. “It’s a matter of finding a set lineup and once we found the right mix, sticking with it.
“We have a bench where we can actually sub people in and it won’t affect things on the field badly. Being able to bring people in and move them around without losing any of our flow is a huge advantage.
“If we want to change our formation at the half, we can do that because we have the flexibility on and off the bench.”
Instrumental to the Marauders’ recent wins has been the team’s ability to find scoring from multiple sources. For her part, van der Hoop argues that such balance in attack makes McMaster more difficult to play, as opponents can’t key on one player.
“It’s a huge advantage when we don’t have one star player on the team,” said the captain. “That gives us more flexibility and that shows on the scoreboard. We have midfielders and forwards all capable of posing a threat. Nat [Natalie Brace] and Emma [Mangialardi] both play up front but their role is to stay wide.
“So the fact that they’re still getting the shots on goal and finishing the way they are is huge.”
The captain believes that the reason so many of her teammates are making headway has much to do with the coaching style employed by the Marauders’ bench boss Brett Mosen.
“Brett does a really good job in practice of putting people in and letting them experience what he wants the team to do,” argued van der Hoop. “He makes sure that everyone knows what their role is, so that when they get the opportunity they know what to do.”
The next such opportunity on Oct. 14, as McMaster hosts the Brock Badgers in another pivotal late season clash. The importance of gaining maximum points is apparent to van der Hoop but she remarks that despite their record, the Badgers will not be easily subdued.
“They’ve always given us a tough game,” said the captain of her team’s next opponent. “They’re not particularly skillful but they just fight really hard for every ball. That sort of gritty team can get to you, and it’s hard to push past them sometimes because it takes a lot of character to put that aside and play better.”
McMaster faithful will be hoping that van der Hoop and her teammates can do just that on Oct. 14 and lock up three vital points en route to the OUA playoffs. The Friday night clash kicks off at 6 p.m. at Ron Joyce Stadium.