By Fraser Caldwell
Brendan Sweeney planted the seeds in 2015, and, four years later, he and the Marauders are reaping the benefits of their close association with the Hamilton Bengals U19 program.
The McMaster head coach launched the age group program with the Bengals to compete in Ontario Women’s Field Lacrosse (OWFL) four years ago as the inaugural head coach, and remains in that post to this day.
He welcomed the first graduating members of the program to the Marauders a season ago, when the pair of Vanessa Bielecke and Kaitlyn Moffat moved to postsecondary programs at McMaster and donned maroon.
This fall, Sweeney and the Marauders will be joined by two more, elite products of that Bengals program, with the team’s top scorer, Posy O’Keefe, and senior team star Ellaraye Tobias headed to McMaster.
“Ellaraye and Posy are intelligent young women and exceptional athletes,” says Sweeney of his newest additions. “Both bring an element of experience, athleticism, leadership, and lacrosse acumen that is critical in helping take our program to the next level. I also anticipate that they will play an important role in the women’s lacrosse program’s community engagement activities in the near future. In short, I’m thrilled.”
Having just recently wrapped up her regular season with the Bengals, O’Keefe closed as the team’s leading scorer with 29 goals and 16 assists in 14 games, and will take part in the provincial championship tournament between July 18 and 21 in Waterloo.
Heavily-involved in student government and extra-curriculars off the lacrosse field at King’s Christian Collegiate in Oakville, Ont., O’Keefe is the Executive of Extra-Curricular on the school’s student council, a recipient of the Rioch Sustainability Award, two-time recipient of the Servant Leadership Award and a 2019 participant in the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair (BASEF).
In the absence of a girls lacrosse program at King’s Christian, O’Keefe played for the newly-formed boys team this past year.
The Burlington, Ont. native was encouraged by the approachability of her new teammates when she met the Marauders, and was already very familiar with her future coach’s methods. Academically, O’Keefe was drawn to McMaster’s Integrated Science program, which presented an ideal learning environment.
“I targeted the Integrated Science program, which demonstrates a holistic view of science,” says O’Keefe. “This was appealing because I have always seen in my classes how the sciences build off of, and rely on, one another.”
“The program is also small, which is appealing because I like the idea of getting to know my peers, and a smaller class makes it easier to ask questions.”
A player who prides herself on her team-first attitude, O’Keefe is focused on organization and time management in order to make her transition to University and life as a varsity student-athlete as seamless as possible.
Joining the Marauders alongside O’Keefe, Tobias arrives a year older and with a senior season of Bengals lacrosse under her belt. She notched eight goals and three assists in eight games played over the course of the team’s regular season, and helped Hamilton to bronze in the senior ‘B’ division at the provincial championships in June.
No stranger to taking on a leadership role on the field, the Hamilton native was the captain of her high school squad at Bishop Ryan and Sweeney’s Bengals U19 group in 2018.
The combination of a coach she looks up to, a destination close to her family and friends and a Social Sciences program that allows her to follow her passion after graduation made committing to McMaster an easy decision for Tobias.
“I was drawn to McMaster’s team because of Brendan Sweeney, who is a huge role model for me and has helped shape me into the player I am today,” she says. “Brendan really pushed me to my limits, and I was really proud to be his captain with the Bengals.”
“McMaster is a perfect fit for me because it’s close to home and the Social Sciences program aligns well with everything I would like to do in the future.”
Tobias singles out her speed and proven leadership ability as particular strengths on the field, and relishes performing under pressure. Much like her new McMaster teammate, her first order of business upon arriving on campus will be finding the athletic and academic balance to succeed.
“My first priority is finding a routine that works for me,” she says. “There will be a lot on my plate, but I know that I can handle it once I sort everything out.”
One of the advantages of the relationship Sweeney boasts with the Bengals is the ability to mentor players from their early teen years, and prepare them for the type of system and set of expectations they would encounter at McMaster.
It allows for a smooth transition, and allays some of the on-field fears that might come with a move to the postsecondary level.
“I was thrilled when [Bielecke] and [Moffat] joined our program last year,” said Sweeney. “I am doubly thrilled now that Ellaraye and Posy are joining us. I have had the opportunity to see them develop as athletes and as leaders since they were 13 or 14 years old through the Hamilton Bengals U19 program, and I am even more excited for the opportunity to watch them develop as student-athletes at McMaster.”