The surging wave of COVID-19 sparked by the Omicron variant put a pause on Atlantic University Sport (AUS) play this winter. Dalhousie University athletes have been patiently waiting to return to competition and resume play since the announcement was made by the AUS on Dec. 22, 2021, to suspend play.
The year to that point looked promising, as teams had positive starts to their seasons. That soon ceased after the fall season, with rising case counts within the Atlantic provinces.
The AUS recently announced the return to league play despite a revised schedule on upcoming regular-season games. Athletes have had to find ways to manage through this extended break and maintain a positive mindset to prepare for the second half of the 2021-2022 season.
“It has been challenging only allowed having 10 players on the ice at a time, but we are lucky that last year prepared us for this and helped us find ways to stay engaged during the off-time,” said Autumn Moors, captain of the Dalhousie women’s hockey team. Among Nova Scotia’s previous restrictions, teams could only practice in groups of 10. “The uncertainty of a date made the girls a little more restless and made us think, ‘What are we doing this for?’ and, ‘What is coming next?’”
Although Moors’s team went ten weeks without any game action, they returned Feb. 19, where they fell 2-0 to a defensive-minded Université de Moncton Aigles Bleues team. Action returned in the conference the day before, a week after the revised schedule for the rest of the regular season was released.
Also in that announcement, the AUS said this season will involve modified playoff formats in hockey, basketball and volleyball leagues.
Track season will go ahead
Every athlete has found ways to cope with this hiatus and to stay mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming winter schedule. Many Tigers found ways individually as well as with teammates to prepare for competition despite gathering restrictions.
“The cross-country season provided us with a really strong foundation to feel prepared for our track season. We have been building on that in hopes of winning another AUS team title,” said Hannah Trites of the women’s cross country and track and field teams.
With the track and field season just starting, the team has been finding ways on and off the track to stay motivated and work on their individual events in hopes of beginning the new year.
“We had to split up into smaller training groups, but we kept within our own events,” Trites said. “The distance group trained together, and the mid-distance group stuck together so it ended up working out really well.”
With this being Trites’s last hurrah in her final season of competition, the break has come with some bittersweet feelings.
“For me personally, it has been the most exciting year,” she said. “Training is moving in the right direction, and we are finally getting to race, especially with the additional year of building last season.”
First-year Tigers stay strong
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of all competition in 2020-2021, but this year has looked much more optimistic. Last year, first-year Tigers did not get their chance in the AUS spotlight. Now, many are pumped to continue their seasons.
“With COVID-19 affecting my first two seasons, I am extremely excited for our upcoming games and my years to follow will make those games and experiences with the team much more special,” said Olivia Eustace, a second-year forward for the women’s hockey team playing in her first year of eligibility.
The men’s volleyball team, members of the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ), also returned on Feb. 18. But playing in the Quebec-based conference has been a bit different, as Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are in different stages restriction-wise. Until those loosen, the team will only play the University of New Brunswick Reds until early March.
Dal outside hitter Michael Donovan said there was some speculation the RSEQ may extend its pause or, worse, not resume play at all this year. So, despite remaining restrictions, he said being back on the court in this manner is better than nothing.
“There was a lot of speculation on if we were going to return or not. We felt confident as a team that they were going to find a way to let us finish out our season,” said the second-year student in his first year of eligibility.
Going through cancellations last year, Donovan said, helped prepare his team for any uncertain turns the winter schedule might take.
“It’s important to stay positive, he said. “Once you have experienced this before, you know you have to just wait it out and stay positive.”