McMaster has another champion: the Marauder women’s rugby team.

The squad has been among the OUA’s elite for years, but finally have a banner to hang in the David Braley Athletic Centre after besting the Guelph Gryphons, 19-10. The win puts them through to the national championship, where the Marauders are seeded second overall out of six teams.

Mac put on a defensive clinic against Guelph without captain Cindy Nelles, who broke her hand in the semi-fi- nal. Nelles, who earned her second All-Canadian nod, will miss the CIS tournament because of the injury. Winning the first championship is important to Nelles and her team.

“It’s a special opportunity. It makes you realize that with hard work can come great reward, and that’s going to be huge for our program in the future,” said Nelles on 93.3’s Marauder Radio show.

It is not the team’s first trip to nationals, though. McMaster hosted the inaugural tournament in 1998, where they captured silver in a 15-10 loss to Guelph.

After the Marauders made OUA finals in 2011, the team qualified for nationals and finished in fifth-place.

But the Marauders are a bit different this year. Kailyn Jones, a fourth-year, said this team has a close bond and that has contributed to success.

“I like how close everyone is. At practice, everyone knows each other. The rookies have come into their own,” said Jones. “Even when Guelph scored on us, no one got down and we came through.”

Creating that chemistry is head coach Shaun Allen, who won an OUA championship in his first year at the helm of the program.

A solid crop of rookies pushed McMaster into the top tier by providing depth to the squad. That depth is playing dividends now, as Mac can weather injuries.

But the team will be immediately tested at the national championship. Mac has to play Guelph – who is hosting the tournament – in the first round.

The Marauders tied the Gryphons in regular season play, but both teams are not at full strength. Guelph pinned McMaster back for long periods of the OUA championship and getting another strong defensive performance will be the formula for a first-round win.

Regardless of the result, national championship experience will help a group that could return nearly their entire roster.

The goal will still be to win the tournament, but playing games on that stage will set up a deep group for multiple runs at CIS gold.

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