If Guelph’s Kayah Adamuszewski ever sits back and thinks about just how far she’s come in such a short time playing rugby, she must think she’ll awaken from the dream shortly.
“I started playing at the end of Grade 12,” the 18-year-old Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School graduate said. “In March when the season started for rugby, that's when I started. Before then I'd only heard of rugby and when I talked to people, they said 'Oh, you'd be good at rugby.' I'd played volleyball before, but because volleyball was coming to an end and I love being active I thought I'd try rugby because it was the season for it.
"I made it, I played on the team and I really enjoyed it so that's when I started playing.”
That was 2022 and she’s now midway through her second year in the sport and has been on two Rugby Ontario Women’s League championship-winning teams with the Guelph Redcoats, been a member of the Canadian under-20 squad that played a trio of games in the summer and is also a playing member of the perennially strong Guelph Gryphons team that is always a challenger for the Ontario University Athletics pennant.
“She's just an incredible athlete,” Gryphon head coach and national U20 assistant coach Colette McAuley said. “She's just so strong. We've challenged her at three
different spots in the forwards and she's just taken that on and does whatever the team needs. She's just an exceptional, coachable athlete full of power and we're excited for her future.”
Adamuszewski feels her first big break came early in her only season of District 10 high school rugby when the Bishop Macdonell Celtics participated in Centennial CVI’s annual Centennial Cup tournament when there were plenty of Gryphons there watching, including McAuley.
“Coaches came and they saw me and I went up to them, actually to Colette, and she told me that I should come to the (Ontario) Blue training camp and she wanted me to play for their team just because of the potential she saw in me which was super cool,” Adamuszewski said. “So I did that and I made the team which was super cool, too. It was an amazing opportunity.”
She also enrolled in environmental science at the University of Guelph, joined the Gryphons and was pleasantly surprised to make the team.
“I remember my first game, I felt very surprised,” Adamuszewski said. “I saw the roster when it came out in an email, I felt really proud of myself, but also really just in shock. I didn't recognize how much I developed because I played in the summer and training camp. I just didn't realize how much I really developed that quickly until I did see that roster. When I got onto the field that first game, it was a big shock for me playing that big of a different level than I did in high school, but it was still really great. It was so, so great that I got playing time. I was so grateful that I had that time and I just felt really good about it.”
While she never started a game, she did see time on the field in all 14 games the Gryphons played on their way to a silver-medal finish in the provincial OUA league and a fourth-place finish at the U Sports national championship tournament.
This spring she was surprised again when she was named to the national U20 team.
“It was pretty cool,” she said. “I actually didn't know that I was even trying out for the national team or even got selected because I was trying out for the Ontario team. The Ontario tryouts and the Canada tryouts were happening at the same time, but I didn't know that until I got a text from Colette saying that I had been recruited by one of the coaches for Canada.
"She wanted me to come to the training camp that was in B.C. so I did that. It was awesome. Everything I feel like with rugby is a shock to me. I don't expect anything from rugby and I don't expect to be picked for anything or anything. I just work really hard and try to do my best with everything I do. It was great seeing that text. I was in shock, but I still felt a lot of pride and I was really, really excited.”
Adamuszewski played in all three games of the U20 team’s July Tour in Ottawa. The team played the older University of Ottawa Gee-Gees as well as national U20 teams from the United States and Wales.
“She was excellent,” McAuley said. “She was the top prospect, came in fitness and power and I know the forwards coach there, Carolyn (McEwen), had a lot of good things to say about her. It's just working on that technique piece because front-row work is never done. She's just beginning her journey so we're pretty excited.”
Adamuszewski is trying to be as much of a sponge as possible, soaking in all the rugby knowledge she can from each of her teammates.
“I always know that there are so many people that have played for a lot longer than I have and I just try to learn from different people and try to get a lot from everyone and learn everybody's different playing styles and seeing what I can pick up from different people,” she said. “Hopefully that will shape me into a versatile player.”
That’s true for all the teams she competes on, including the now three-time OWL champion Redcoats.
“A lot of the coaches that we have for Gryphons stay with the Redcoats such as Brit Kassil and Jessie-Anne Gibson,” Adamuszewski said. “They both coach the Redcoats.
"It's really great to have the consistency of the coaches and a lot of the girls stay in Guelph as well because they live here. They've been in Guelph a long time and they live here and I get to keep developing with them, plus a lot of other people that come from other teams, as well. I get to see even more playing styles and I get to learn to play with different people. That's really important too – getting to learn to play with all types of people and all types of players.”
It also helped Adamuszewski’s experience with the national U20 team that four teammates with either the Redcoats or Gryphons (or both) were also selected to that team. They were Jayne Armatage (Redcoats), Taylor McKnight (Gryphons), Gerry Atkins (both) and fellow Guelph native Abby Auger (both).
“It's easier for me to play and have chemistry with the other people,” Adamuszewski said. “It's more the social aspect for me that's a little harder so when I have people that I know already from previous times, I feel a little bit more comfortable and then that also translates to playing on the team and having chemistry on the team which I think was really helpful, too.”
Now it’s university rugby season and Adamuszewski is excited exactly what awaits her and the Gryphons. Whatever it is she’ll try to gain as much knowledge from it as she can.
“There's been bumps in the road and times I haven't felt good about myself, but I think what's important is to just keep working hard and trying your best, staying humble and not expecting anything and knowing that there are so many people you can learn from,” she said. “Being on this team, the Gryphons team, has been an awesome opportunity for me because I'm playing with girls who have been playing for a long time and have played at a really high level. It's just been a really, really great experience and it has helped me learn so, so much.”
Next home action at the U of G’s Varsity Field for the Gryphons is their final home game of the regular season when they’re to host the Western Mustangs this Sunday. Game time is 1 p.m.