The 1999-00 season was the last time the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks didn’t win a single Ontario University Athletics (OUA) banner.
That year, the program had a combined 83 wins, 95 losses and a 49.9 per cent win percentage. Since then, Laurier has been able to win at least one provincial championship, including multiple national championships along the way.
Until this year.
WLU’s 2012-13 varsity season came to a halt last week after the women’s hockey team lost a stunning semifinal series 2-1 to the Western Mustangs.
This was the conclusion to a week-long span that also featured the women’s and men’s curling teams being eliminated from the OUA championships, the men’s and women’s basketball teams bounced in the first round of the playoffs and the men’s hockey team defeated in game three of the OUA West quarterfinal.
“We play the game. And when you play the game, there’s a winner and a loser and it didn’t go our way,” said Peter Baxter, director of athletics and recreation at WLU.
“But I don’t think that’s from the effort of our teams.”
Since the beginning of the season, Laurier has experienced one of their most unsuccessful years in recent history. In 225 total games, the Golden Hawks varsity squads only accumulated 122 wins, the fewest since 2003-04.
“I think this is an anomaly year, and I think that’s going to be there,” Baxter said. “To the credit of our competitors now, we’ve set a standard. And we’ve had a target on our backs for a long time. And now they’re doing the same.”
At the beginning of the season, the men’s football team had a 3-5 record before backing into the playoffs, only to be embarrassed by the Queen’s Gaels 34-0.
“The other thing I think is important is that since it starts off in the fall, football has to be strong,” Baxter said. “I think when football is strong, it affects the whole campus, in attitude, in commitment to training and a lot of other sites.
“Unfortunately, we probably had one of the worst seasons in 40 years. When Wilfrid Laurier has a strong football program, that breeds success.”
As the fall sports went on, some of Laurier’s perennial contenders like women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse also fell short of where they usually finish.
“Once you set that excellence standard, the expectations become higher,” Baxter said. “Which is fine. Bring it on. But at the same time, it’s tougher when you’ve been that successful because the tendency is to become complacent.”
The winter term didn’t bring any further hope of a championship, as the closest any Laurier team came was the women’s hockey team’s OUA semifinal loss.
Only two teams qualified for nationals over the entire year. Women’s soccer qualified, however, they finished 0-2 at the championship. Swimming had four swimmers qualify, with Renee Dijk scoring all 26 points accumulated for WLU.
In 2010, the athletics department introduced a new funding model, which became controversial, largely because it brought on the elimination of Laurier’s volleyball program. The model proposed a tier hierarchy, where more money is directed to the football, basketball, soccer and hockey programs and since then, Baxter said there has been “benchmarking” done.
However, since the model’s implementation, there has been little visible improvement on the field, the court or the ice.
“There’s less than a $17,000 gap between us and the team that won the Yates Cup this year. So it’s not money,” Baxter said. “Everything comes down to people, not money. Even in the days when we didn’t have money, we still competed.”
Baxter explained that much of the new funding model has helped the intramural program, where more students are able to participate and more teams have been implemented. **
Within the years following the last time Laurier did not win any championships, Baxter contested that many programs began to blossom.
“I told [past women’s basketball head coach] Stu Julius, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’” Baxter said.
Baxter was only a year into his tenure at WLU in 1999-00. Since then, the program has seen inconsistent progress, peaking in 2005 with a Vanier Cup in football and a national championship in women’s hockey.
Baxter insists that this year was irregular and that Laurier continues to be competitive. He said that next season, the school will see a lot of progress.
“This year you’ll see we’ve invested in a great coach in [football head coach] Michael Faulds,” he said.
“[Men’s hockey head coach] Greg Puhalski is only in his second recruiting cycle. There are going to be some years where we’re going to win 10 championships. Any of those games could have gone either way.
“We’ll be competitive. And mind you, we have been competitive.”
**Editor’s note: this article has been updated from its original version.