Wisconsin-Whitewater won the Division III national championship in 2007, played for the title in 2008, and then won the title again in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The Warhawks were a dynasty by any definition.
Then, in 2012, Whitewater missed the playoffs. It wasn’t a stunning fall off a cliff; the Warhawks went 7-3. Nevertheless, it was a shocking end to a great run.
Except that it wasn’t.
In preparing for the 2013 season, head coach Lance Liepold never stated a goal of winning a national championship. He just wanted his program to get better day after day after day.
“We don’t talk about winning national championships. We talk about competing and getting better daily to win a conference championship,” head coach Lance Liepold said. “We started that in the off-season, what was going to be the work ethic and what we really wanted to do.”
Whatever message Liepold broadcasted, it was received. The Warhawks cruised to a 12-0 start, by an average score of 38-7. In the Division III semifinals, Whitewater fell behind visiting Linfield (Ore.) 17-0 before storming back for a 28-17 victory. A week later, Whitewater visited Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas), owners of a 16-game home winning streak, and fell in a 12-0 hole. They clawed back for a 16-15 victory. Against Mount Union in the national championship, Whitewater turned a 21-14 halftime score into a 52-14 blowout victory.
Winning the national championship was never the stated goal, but mission accomplished nonetheless.
The defense of the 2014 title? That’s well underway. “To be at where we want to be at, there is no off-season.”