How the women’s hockey team clinched their first OUA title


The 2023-24 season marked the first title win for the Waterloo Warriors women’s hockey team. Their success also earned them a Team of the Year award at the 2024 Athletics Banquet at the Physical Activities Complex on March 27.

“It’s pretty unbelievable. Throughout the years, we’ve worked really hard and we’ve always come up short, so to finally achieve our goal is unbelievable and hard to put words on,” said Warriors goalie Mikayla Schnarr, on how it felt to win the McCaw Cup. 

A team that has consistently been one of the best teams in the Ontario Western conference missed their chance at the championship in the 2021-22 season with an early knockout, losing their first playoff game, and losing the semi-finals in the 2022-23 season. Building on successive runs into the playoffs with a relatively stable roster, the Warriors headed into the 2023-24 season knowing they had a shot at consistent wins and staying on top of the table.

Preseason proved quite the opposite. After the first four games, the Warriors had only one win. The win came in their first game against the Western Mustangs, the team that had consistently placed fifth out of the six teams in the Western Conference in the same years where Waterloo had reigned the West division. However, the Warriors took learnings from their losses against the Guelph Gryphons and Toronto Varsity Blues to come back strong into the opening of the OUA. The first 10 games showed better form than the preseason, with five wins and five losses under their belt. The form of the Warriors was only going to improve here onwards.

Between Nov. 25, 2023 and Feb. 5, 2024, the Warriors played 13 games and took 11 victories. All their wins, barring two, were with a goal difference of two or greater. During this time, the Warriors also saw one their biggest wins of the regular season – a 6-2 win over the Windsor Lancers. They would display another dominant performance shortly after this, when the Warriors won 4-0 against the Western Mustangs. The regular season carried on for a short couple weeks after this 13 game streak where the Warriors took their ultimate regular season win against the Laurier Golden Hawks, winning 5-2 on Feb. 17.

Cementing the second place position in the Western Conference, 16 points clear of third but 14 points shy of the Guelph Gryphons champions, the Warriors missed out on the top of the table for the first time in three years. Associate coach Dollee Meigs commented on this, stating, “We’re peaking at the right time this year, which is new for us.” Having missed out on making U Sports National Championship due to losses in the playoffs, the Warriors have shined in the regular season but crumbled under pressure. In the 2021-22 season, the Warriors had three more wins than any other team in the Western Conference, and was second in all of Ontario, but lost to the Western Mustangs in the quarterfinals. During the 2022-23 season, the Warriors lost to Nipissing, marking their longest run in the playoffs. This year, they were determined to make more of the postseason than ever before.

The postseason for the Warriors echoed their energy. The Warriors faced the Golden Hawks for a third game in a row, beating them 4-3 in the first game and 2-1 in the second game to take the three-game series in the first two match ups. The semi-finals were next, and the Warriors found themselves playing the York Lions — the team with the fewest points to make it into the playoffs. Here, the York Lions started the series with a big upset, defeating the Warriors in the first game at Waterloo’s home ground, the Columbia Ice Field. A 2-3 game, the Lions scored in every period, marking their intent to go from the bottom seed of the playoffs to attempting to make it to the nationals.

It is precisely here where the Warriors pulled off what they had struggled with for the last few years. Going to York’s Canlan Ice Center, the Warriors were determined to win and equalize the three-game series at 1-1, and that is exactly what they did. The game saw the return of Schnarr, who in 2022 bore witness from the net when the Mustangs defeated the Warriors and watched from the sidelines in 2023 the loss against Nipissing. Schnarr was determined to make it to nationals in her final year as a Warrior. In front of a 100 person crowd, she made an impressive 24 saves against the Lions, allowing only one shot to pass through her. In contrast, the Warriors put up an impressive four points, defeating the Lions 4-1 and tying the series.

It was now back to the Columbia Ice Field, where a crowd of 419 people donned in black and gold welcomed the Lions to a challenge, a seat at the table of the U SPORTS national championship. The Warriors and the Lions played a clean game, but at the end of the second period, the score was tied at 0-0. Here, the Warriors knew that they couldn’t let themselves repeat the upset of 2022 and 2023. Sarah Irwin opened the scoring, assisted by Leah Herrfort to bring Waterloo to the lead – 1-0. A short four minutes later, to the roar of the crowd, Herrfort made the best of Ava Ricker-Singh’s penalty and put herself up on the board with Irwin with an assist from Lyndsy Acheson. 2-0, Warriors. The Warriors knew they had to keep the lead and did their best to do so. Defense stayed relatively clean, albeit a penalty with only 5:15 remaining in the third period. The Lions weren’t able to take advantage of Tatum Jones’ tripping offense, and even with one woman down, the Warriors defended. With only 3:15 remaining on the clock, Jones reappeared on the ice, and within 45 seconds, sealed Waterloo’s victory by pushing a third shot through the Lions’ Emma Wedgewood. 3-0, Warriors.

As the buzzer went off to signal time, the crowd erupted in a frenzy, and the team huddled up. They had just confirmed their first trip to the coveted U Sports championship. However, they had one more hurdle to cross before they put their hands on any silverware — the final match of the OUA McCaw Championship against the Toronto Varsity Blues.

The Warriors had faced the Varsity Blues thrice; once in the pre-season, and twice in the regular season. The preseason game was a dull loss for the Warriors, losing 2-5 in an away game. The regular season games were worse. Toronto defeated Waterloo 3-0, taking advantage of a home crowd in November 2023. Then, during their visit to Waterloo in January, they handed the Warriors their biggest loss of the season, 5-1 to the Varsity Blues. Had the team been obsessed with statistics, this would have been a scary match-up. However, they faced the Varsity Blues like warriors should.

Schnarr made an impeccable 25 saves on the evening of March 9. Her saves contributed to the only victory Waterloo has against the Toronto Varsity Blues this season. Toronto opened the scoring with Juliette Blais-Savoie scoring just six minutes into the start of the final. Carly Orth, assisted by Paige Rynne and Irwin equalized to bring the game to 1-1, and the game stayed tied for the two periods to follow. The game was tense, and it went into overtime. In overtime, Toronto failed to convert their best opportunity when Acheson was given a two minute penalty for a tripping offense. Toronto’s two minute window came and passed by, but the Warriors held on. In the eighth minute, the puck was making its way with the Varsity Blues into their attacking half, but an aware and aggressive Carly Orth stole the puck with a stick lift and raced to the other end. Here, she passed the puck to Rynne, who converted this play into the first title in the history of the Waterloo Warriors women’s hockey team.

“It was loud the whole game, but in that moment, I think we blew the roof off the place,” said Schnarr, of the excitement in the room after that final goal.

With their first silverware in the cabinet, they were ready to fly to Saskatoon to compete for the national championship. Once in Saskatoon, Schnarr briefly commented on the team’s excitement and eagerness. “We’ve definitely had time to celebrate, and then getting on the ice yesterday here in Saskatoon kind of allowed us to flip the switch and start preparing for the next thing.” Her words could not have been more true. In the first game of the U SPORTS championship, Waterloo faced the University of Saskatchewan, and made a statement of intent by winning 6-1, with a five-point final period. Tatum scored three goals for the Warriors in a graceful display of offensive brilliance, while Schnarr made 20 saves to ensure that the Warriors progressed to the semi-finals.

Unfortunately, the semi-finals were as far as the Warriors made it. For the first attempt that Waterloo has had at the U Sports tournament, it was an impressive display. The Warriors faced the national #1 seed, the Concordia Stingers. A bitter 3-1 loss meant that the Warriors would have to compete against the Montreal Carabins. Brooklyn Cole opened the scoring for Waterloo in the first period, and the Warriors held the lead for the entirety of the game. In an unfortunate turn of events, the Carabins scored in the last minute of play in the third period, resulting in the game running into overtime. However, neither team could score again, and the game was decided on a final shootout. Here, the Carabins and the Warriors failed to score with their first shootout. However, Kelly-Ann Nadeau scored for the Carabins, and when the Warriors could not equalize, the Montrealers erupted in celebrations of their third place bronze medal. 

The current lineup of the Warriors has 11 players set to graduate in 2024. To these players, winning the OUA and contesting for the nationals is a sign of their individual and team talent. The Warriors will be hosting the 2025 U Sports Women’s Ice Hockey Championship, and will be looking forward to winning games and potential silverware on home ice.

With files from Veronica Reiner.