ETOBICOKE, Ont. — Dynasties don’t come around every day with how hard it is to win one championship, let alone consecutive crowns.
In the college world, there’s an added layer to the difficulty given the roster turnover which can happen with each passing year in some instances. Still, the history of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) has seen its share of dynasty programs over the years.
In Women’s Volleyball, CEGEP Garneau has been the model of consistency. Previously known as College FX Garneau, the Elans won their first National Championship in 1990. Then, starting with their National Championship in 1996, Garneau won eight titles in 11 seasons from 1996 to 2006.
On the Men’s Volleyball side, the Red Deer College Kings (now Red Deer Polytechnic) lived up to their moniker time and time again. From 1995 through to 2007, the Kings picked up a staggering 10 National Championships, a stretch that included eight straight from 2000 to 2007.
The list goes on and on. There’s the Fanshawe Falcons Men’s Cross Country program that has recorded a CCAA medal in 14 of the last 15 years. There’s the run of Women’s Basketball Championships that the RSEQ as a conference went on from 2002 to 2015, with schools from the league winning a combined 12 titles (the Nomades de Montmorency were responsible for seven of them).
However, above them all, there has been one school that has set the gold standard when it comes to not only National Championships, but consistent success on the national stage in the CCAA, and it’s not even close.
The Humber Hawks.
National Championships and the Hawks go together like wine and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, Woody and Buzz, or Bonnie and Clyde.
Pick your own iconic duo, and that’s Humber College and CCAA National Championships.
In order to appreciate what the Hawks have been able to achieve over the years, let’s take a look back at some of the numbers.
In total, the Hawks have won 54 National Championships and 10 different programs have won a National Championship at Humber College. Their National Championship success is on top of their provincial success in the OCAA where the Hawks have racked up over 300(!) provincial titles.
If you count the 2021 CCAA Women’s Golf National Championship, in which the OCAA Team that was comprised of Hayley McCallum and Madison Ouellette from Humber and Shannon Coffey from the St. Clair Saints, the Hawks have 55 National Championships to their credit.
Regardless, they are in a class of their own.
In fact, they’re teaching the class.
No strangers to dynasties, the Hawks have seen several coaches and programs leave their mark on the CCAA, and those stories and unprecedented runs have gone vastly underappreciated across the nation.
First, it was Mike Katz and the Men’s Basketball program. In the early 1990s, the Hawks won four National Championships in a span of five seasons, including three straight from 1991 to 1993. They would add a fifth title under Katz in 2001 on their home court to cement his place in the history books.
Then, there was the run that the Golf program made under Ray Chateau, who is now the Director of Athletics & Recreation at Humber College. Chateau helped guide the Hawks Golf program to 10 National Championships in his 12-year tenure as Head Coach. Now, after having lived it first-hand as a Coach, Chateau is helping lead the department to success both in sport and as an academic institution.
Now, the Hawks are in the midst of yet another dynasty, one that has stretched close to a decade and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Since 2012, the Men’s Soccer program for the Hawks has won six National Championships, five of which have come under current Head Coach Michael Aquino. The first in their recent run came in 2012, which kicked off a run of four titles in a five-year window.
Humber also won the National Championship in 2018.
This past season, the Hawks made sure to make up for lost time after having lost the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in November at the 2021 CCAA Men’s Soccer National Championship in Calgary, the Hawks picked up their sixth National Championship since 2012 to solidify that the dynasty is in full swing.
Humber finished atop the OCAA Central Division standings with a 5-0-1 record during the regular season, posting a +27 goal differential in the process (33 goals for, six goals against).
At the OCAA Championships, the Hawks rolled over St. Clair in the semifinals, picking up a 5-1 win. Then, in the Gold Medal Game, Humber blanked the George Brown Huskies, 4-0, to enter the CCAA Championship riding a wave of momentum.
Throughout the season, the Hawks were near the top of the CCAA Rankings thanks to their stellar play during the OCAA season. They entered the National Championships as the top team in the country.
However, if you ask the team, the rankings were the last thing on their mind. Their focus from day one was on winning a National Championship, and that never wavered.
“All season long, we never talked about the rankings,” said fourth-year defender Michael Fayehun. “Our focus has always been on the work that we put in as a team on the pitch.”
“The goal at the beginning of every season has always been to win the National Championship, regardless of our ranking, and we’re very happy that we accomplished that yearly mission this year.”
The Hawks used a strong defensive presence, and timely offense, at the 2021 National Championship to propel them to the Gold Medal. Humber picked up a 1-0 win over the Brandon Bobcats in their quarter-final match-up to punch their ticket to the semifinals. Luca Uccello scored in the 19th minute for the game’s only goal.
In the semifinals, the Hawks squared against the aforementioned Nomades de Montmorency. After ending regulation and overtime in a 1-1 draw, the teams needed penalty kicks to determine who would advance to the Gold Medal Game. Humber advanced after winning 4-3 in the shootout, punching their ticket to the Championship.
There, the Hawks would square off against the Douglas College Royals. It was a battle between two of the best defensive teams in the country. The Hawks had allowed just one regulation goal in their first two matches at Nationals, while the Royals were coming off a pair of clean sheets.
Something had to give in the Gold Medal Game, and fortunately for Humber, they were able to break through and find the back of the net. Uccello scored for the Hawks in the 14th minute, and first-year goalkeeper Holger Xhameta posted his second clean sheet of the tournament to propel Humber to the National Championship win.
Fayehun was named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player at the conclusion of the game.
“Having a group of talented teammates around me is a big part of this,” said Fayehun. “They all inspire me, and we push & support each other to be better and play for each other.”
“I couldn’t have done this without them. They are all the real MVP’s.”
In addition to his teammates, Fayehun was also quick to point out the work that the coaching staff puts in, day in and day out, so that the program can be as successful as possible.
“The work that the coaching staff do with the recruiting to put such a talented team together is key to our success,” continued Fayehun. “I haven’t been around a group of staff that put in as much time and effort as they put into recruiting, game analysis, etc. to set us all up for success.”
“I’ve seen it up close, year in and year out, and it’s just incredible. Hats off to them!”
Heading into the 2021 season, Aquino and his staff brought in, and brought back, their share of talent. Uccello had success with Toronto FC II before committing to the Hawks back in August. They also added former Glasgow Rangers defender Luca Gasparotto to the mix in mid-September, bolstering what was already a strong defensive unit.
They also welcomed back veteran forward Marcos Nunes for his fifth and final year of eligibility. As one of the veterans, Nunes enjoyed every moment of the 2021 season, and he relished in the opportunity to help mentor the younger players for the Hawks in the process, much like veterans did for him when he was a first-year player.
“It was truly amazing to return, especially now as an older player,” said Nunes. “I was able to help the younger players grow in the game with all of the experience that I’ve gained over the years.”
“I came to Humber as a 19-year-old with very little experience, and with the help of the coaches and some of the other players (like Marcelo Capozzolo), they helped me mature in the game and also as a person.”
Nunes, who was the 2016 CCAA Player of the Year and a 2016 CCAA All-Canadian, closes his collegiate career as a four-time OCAA Champion, a four-time CCAA Champion, and a two-time OCAA League All-Star among other accolades.
Like Fayehun, Nunes was quick to attribute a lot of his individual success and accolades to the work that the coaching staff has put in over the years, and the group that he lined up with on the field each day.
“It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to achieve anything in life,” added Nunes. “We trained hard, and everyone from the coaching staff right up to the directors gave us impeccable conditions for us to achieve greatness.”
“We all got along as brothers from day one, nobody was left aside, and everyone was treated fairly, all of which I believe was key to us winning that coveted trophy in November.”
It was a storybook ending for the careers of many on the Humber roster, especially after missing out on the 2021 campaign altogether. The season was also a master class for the newcomers on the roster, as they got to see first-hand what it takes to win at the national level.
The 2021 roster for the Hawks featured nine players who were either in their fourth of fifth year of eligibility, along with 13 student-athletes who were in their first year. The combination of youthful exuberance and veteran experience paid dividends throughout the entire season for Aquino and company.
“It is always special to see players who have spent one or more years with our program exit with the success of a National Championship,” said Aquino. “To journey with them throughout the season, through highs and lows and ultimately be at the ‘top of the mountain’ is an accomplishment that not many student-athletes have achieved.”
“For those veterans who leave Humber with a national ring, it is definitely an honour for us as coaches to have helped them achieve it.”
Maintaining consistent success at the collegiate level is never an easy thing to do. With the potential roster turnover happening in as little as one year, depending on which programs the student-athletes are taking, it makes sustaining success that much more difficult.
It also makes it that much more impressive when programs are able to maintain their level of success over an extended period of time.
“With the tremendous amount of turnover in college athletics, you must always have a keen eye on recruiting the next top talent,” said Aquino. “We do an excellent job connecting with key recruits, clubs, academies, and programs to ensure we have a pulse on players who can help us achieve success.”
“Once with us, we help the player understand our culture, philosophy, and game model so they become part of a group which can collectively achieve national success.”
In the collegiate realm of sport, there are a lot of moving parts to the equation, and they are constantly in motion. For the student-athletes, it becomes a balancing act at times, having to navigate the rigors of academics, athletics, and their personal life, all while making sure they take care of themselves mentally, physically and/or emotionally.
For the coaches, they have to be conscious of what is going in the lives of the student-athletes, often wearing many hats on a daily basis to make sure they are there for their team while helping prepare them for success, both in sport and in life.
Then, when you build a good routine, players graduate and the process starts over with the new wave of talent.
For Aquino and the Hawks Men’s Soccer program, they seem to have figured out the equation.
By establishing a good philosophy and culture, both of which the program is able to build upon each year, it becomes instilled within the players from day one. That process starts during their recruiting process, and is followed through until student-athletes graduate and move onto the next chapter of their lives.
When asked about their ability to sustain success Aquino touched on their efforts in recruiting and building a solid foundation with culture and philosophy, but he also touched on looking within themselves as a program.
“We value the importance of self-assessment and reflection, and look at ways we can regularly improve,” added Aquino. “Applying consistent and sustained efforts to ensure we are committed to this objective is very important to our program.”
“We strive to improve in areas such as training facility, recruitment, scouting, nutrition, planning and coaching … each year we have seen growth in these areas and have introduced new aspects to the overall delivery of our program.”
As an institution, Humber College won its first National Championship in 1991, which was the first of three straight for Mike Katz and the Men’s Basketball program.
Since then, the Hawks have been no stranger to athletic success. In fact, the Hawks became the first program in CCAA history to win 50 National Championships, a mark that they achieved back in 2018 when the Men’s Soccer program brought home Gold.
To put their run of success into perspective, the Hawks have won at least one CCAA National Championship every year since 2006.
There’s no denying the fact that the Humber Hawks are in a class of their own, and with six title of their own in the last nine years, the Men’s Soccer program is the latest dynasty for an institution that’s long been rich in athletic success.
- T. Bennett
Information from humberhawks.ca contributed to this post.