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Making the best of a burdened situation

Women's soccer practice
The Dal women’s soccer Tigers take part in a scrimmage during a recent training session. COVID-19 may have taken away their season but not their ability to reunite at Dal. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

Soccer leagues in Atlantic University Sport (AUS) will not attempt a regular season this year. Nevertheless, the Dalhousie University Tigers men’s and women’s soccer teams are back on campus to train.

The AUS has yet to determine whether winter competition for the other sports will go ahead. In a regular year, soccer and cross-country are the only two AUS sports that hold competitions in the fall.

In what could end up being around a 20-month-long AUS soccer off-season, both of Dal’s teams have fully reunited with an emphasis on team building.

“Practices are fun. We’re still working super hard, maybe a bit harder than we do in a regular pre-season, which is a little surprising, but it’s been good,” said Cat Guevin, a fourth-year student with the women’s Tigers.

“[The team] is enthusiastic. You can tell they’re really happy to be here training and seeing one another,” men’s head coach Alan Jazic said. “There are pretty tight restrictions, which make it challenging to deliver training sessions, but we’re making the most of it. Dal is doing their best to make sure that students are still getting a positive experience.”

Playing within restrictions

At the time of writing, training sessions were limited to 10 players at a time, meaning the teams trained in separate groups in separate areas or times. Nova Scotia set Oct. 1 as the date when up to 50 people could take part in a sports session or game. This could potentially open the door for exhibition games against other schools soon.

The men’s Tigers play keep-away at a recent training session. Men’s coach Alan Jazic said his team is looking to focus on the positives despite the loss of their season. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

“I’m hoping for [games] in late fall. I’m optimistic it can happen. We could get a few games in before it’s too cold,” Jazic said. “In the winter months, hopefully we can rent facilities and have games. I, too, wish I knew how soon.”

Women’s player Riley Donovan said she’s excited to be back and potentially play some games. She mentioned how Nova Scotia allowed a return to play in soccer over the summer, unlike at her home in Ontario.

“That was tough, since I lean on soccer and play it every day in the summer. But I could still complete fitness training,” Donovan said. “With the return, we just have to keep adapting and, with the restrictions, see what we can do.”

The suspension of fall sports announced in June had a more profound impact on the soccer teams. Their season wasn’t officially cancelled at the time, but the uncertainty around how the year would pan out was a concern. The women’s team learned of the fall cancellations during a team meeting on Zoom.

“A lot of the girls got emotional. It’s huge to be training for so long [from the end of the previous season in November] and we were so fired up for this season,” Guevin said. “For it to be thrown away was a letdown.”

Two players drive soccer balls down Wickwire Field. Players and coaches from both teams said practices have been fun, even with the extra stress this year brought. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

Jazic said the school has stepped to the plate to support student athletes impacted by cancellations. Dal has offered mental health services to the teams, along with their efforts to reopen facilities while maintaining safety protocols.

“It’s been a great effort from the athletic department and the university to support student athletes the best they can. Also, Dal did a fantastic job [dealing with] students coming from outside the [Atlantic] bubble to isolate. It was impressive to see the guidelines followed by everyone,” Jazic said. “It’s nice that we’re part of a university that gives our student athletes the opportunity to make the most of this situation.

A prep year

Donovan said there is a lot to be gained this year despite the loss of the season, especially the chance to get stronger as a team.

“We’ve been doing so well in training so far. The talent on our team will come back next year even better,” she said. “We have a ton of incoming players and fourth years like me are looking into a fifth year so we can play. We’ll have a bunch of returning players too.”

Jazic said his team is looking at the positives of losing their season.

The ball slips away from two opposing players in a drill. Both soccer teams have all of their players back, but continued to train in seperate groups of up to 10 in September, a COVID-19 protocol. (Photo by Luke Dyment)

“Rookies undergo a big transition from high school to university, especially when moving here from away. They can adjust to the academic side of university, and transition to living here and meeting new people. Throughout the year, they will grow physically and mentally, and will be a year more mature. That will be a big advantage for them moving forward,” Jazic said. “The team is still practicing four times a week and next year, everybody will know what to expect. It’s prep year.”

Despite the challenges, Guevin said her team has pulled together to work through any difficulties together.

“The motivational aspect has been more difficult. It’s hard to not have something to look forward to with no season,” she said. “Staying together as a team is super important right now. We’re going practice-by-practice.”


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