Raiders defend WCSSAA rugby title, talk coaches, and say goodbye after final high school season

The KCI girls’ rugby team have had another amazing season. After becoming WCSSAA champs and OFSAA qualifiers last year, they took home the WCSSAA title against this year after defeating Waterloo-Oxford 29-5 in the finals.

The Raiders lost a few of their best players last year, including Adrienne Bowra and Leah McBain, who returned to help coach this season, but this year’s co-captains Olivia Mickie and Erin Markle haven’t let the team fall.

The girls also have some great coaches, a group of five incredible women who have all played or are currently playing university rugby: Amy Bambury, Jennifer Armatage, Jill Steckley Leis, Chloe Graves, and Leah McBain.

Amy Bambury, an English teacher at KCI and the head coach of the Laurier Golden Hawks women’s rugby team, is the head coach of the KCI girls’ team. She played university rugby at Trent and has brought the KCI girls rugby program to its status of fame.

Jill Steckley Leis is a phys-ed and science teacher at KCI and has been coaching the girls’ rugby team alongside Bambury for years now. Always cheering on the girls from the sidelines, she keeps the girls working hard and winning their way to the WCSSAA finals.

Chloe Graves plays for the Laurier Golden Hawks, now a fourth-year student. In 2013 and 2015 she won the OUA women’s rugby first team All-Star game award, and in 2013 and 2014 she was the recipient of the Golden Hawk award of excellence.

Jennifer Armatage has coached for McMaster in the past as well as Laurier for eight years. She began as the assistant coach in 2003 before becoming the head coach in 2005. She was awarded coach of the year with OUA in 2005 and 2009. In 2011 she began coaching at the high school level, starting at Forest Heights before transferring to KCI this fall.

Leah McBain, a recent KCI graduate, has just finished her first year at Laurier where she plays rugby for Bambury. Last year she helped lead the KCI girls to a WCSSAA championship, 2nd place at CWOSSA and qualifying for OFSAA.

I talked to this year’s co-captain Olivia Mickie about her four years playing for the KCI girls’ rugby team, what it’s like to play for five incredible female coaches and how it feels to be done her final high school rugby season.

In regards to last week’s CWOSSA finals, she admitted it was difficult to watch from the sidelines. Having come out of a recent practice with a concussion, she was unable to play alongside her teammates for her final game as a KCI Raider.

“It’s really sad,” she said in regards to her final season. “This was by far my favourite year, because of the coaches and also achieving my goal to really be a leader for the team.”

Although the high school season is over, it does not necessarily mean the end of her rugby days, though she says she isn’t sure if she will play rugby in university next year. “I’m still trying to decide. I wouldn’t get to play first year, obviously, and I doubt I would get to play my position.”

Olivia is a forward for the KCI raiders but says that she would likely have to play wing in university instead. However, she claims that even if she does not play for her university team next year, she would love to come back and help coach the KCI team in the spring as Leah McBain did this year.

When asked what made her want to play rugby back in grade nine, she laughed and said, “I was so excited for spring sports!”

It was the year of work to rule in high schools and winter sports were cut short. By the time the strike was over, spring athletics were ready to start and it was decision time. “I was debating soccer and rugby. Most of my friends played soccer, but it was really Bam who convinced me to play. I played volleyball for her in the winter, but because of the strike we never got to finish the season. It was great to play for her again.”

Though there are separate leagues for boys and girls’ rugby, KCI is one of the only girls’ teams to be coached exclusively by women, all of whom have university-level experience in rugby. “I’ve been coached by both men and women for basketball,” Olivia said, “but with this group of women, I feel closer to them. It’s such a good group of girls and coaches and it just makes us all so much closer.”

With five coaches you’re bound to have an interesting mix of personalities, as well. “Oh yeah,” she agreed. “Chloe is so sassy, and Leah always tries to make us call her ‘Coach Leah’ even then we’re only a year apart. Armatage doesn’t hold back, which is tough but great. She and Bam aren’t afraid to tell you what you need to hear.”

The Raiders have had yet another incredible season. With several senior students leaving at the end of this school year for university, it will be interesting to see where the team goes next, but they are definitely in safe hands with Bambury, Steckley Leis, Armatage, McBain and Graves.


By Gabby Crowley