With an 11-7 victory over the Trent Excalibur on Sunday in St. Catharines, the Western Mustangs won the Baggataway Cup and became Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association champions.
The Mustangs have now won four national titles in 32 years of competition: however, before Sunday they had not won since 2001. This was their third appearance in the finals in five years, having fallen to McGill in both 2012 and 2015.
Team manager Mike Frith was ecstatic about Western's performance in both Saturday's semifinal (a 10-9 victory over Guelph) and the championship game on Sunday.
"We played our game," he said simply. "We've been a pretty strong offensive team, we led the league in goals for, but our defence all year was a little bit underrated. We kept both [Guelph and Trent] to under 10, and we've got an offence that can score 10 goals pretty consistently."
The Mustangs entered the CUFLA playoffs on a roll having won their last 11 regular season games. In fact, their only loss all year came against Brock in the season opener, a narrow 16-13 result.
Western's 22-point season matches their performance of a year ago, when they posted an identical 11-1 record. They finished first in the CUFLA West Division both years.
Heading into the championship weekend, the Mustangs were confident, particularly with the powerhouse McGill having been eliminated a week previously.
"In the power rankings we came into the weekend first," said midfield player Jordi Jones-Smith, "but we knew that no matter who we played it was going to be a battle to make it to the finals."
Having finished the season on a 14-game winning streak, and lost just two games two years, the Mustangs have recently become the image of consistency in Canadian field lacrosse.
Frith attributes the team's success to how well the veteran players have meshed over their careers at Western.
"We had a huge core of returning players from last year's team," he said. "Even the first game that we lost was a game that could've gone either way and I think the veterans and the leaders on our team stepped up."
For some players, finally winning the Baggataway Cup is the perfect bookend for their university careers. Three fifth-year seniors — Sam Neeb, Ryan McCrory and Jones-Smith — will be graduating after this season. Those three players experienced their third championship game on Sunday, winning for the first time.
"It honestly means everything to me," said Neeb. "We've been through a lot of adversity, we've had a lot of ups and downs. . . Going out on top means the world to me."
"There's no better way to graduate," added Jones-Smith. "It's a huge memory that I'll leave university with."
With three key starters leaving the team, the Mustangs will be hard-pressed to maintain their consistency next year. Younger players like first year Reid Reinholdt and sophomore Cody Ward, who won the CUFLA scoring title with 66 points, will shoulder much of the responsibility for next season.
Western now has a long off-season to celebrate their first Baggataway Cup in 15 years, as players like Neeb and Jones-Smith will wind down their university careers by helping the next generation of Mustangs lacrosse players learn the team's systems and prepare for the 2017-18 season.