It was a long time coming for the Memorial Sea-Hawks.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant the entire 2020-21 Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season was cancelled.
Thankfully, the 2021-22 season kicked off on Sept. 11 when the men’s and women’s soccer teams hit the pitch for the first time in nearly 700 days.
“It feels great to be back with the squad again,” said Harry Carter, men’s soccer captain. “We still trained last season, but it was tougher knowing we didn’t have a season to look forward to.”
While the goal is for this season to be as normal as possible, there are some COVID-19 regulations in effect.
All AUS athletes have to be fully vaccinated, there are no handshakes after the game between clubs and players are encouraged to be mindful of their number of contacts when travelling.
“You adapt to the times and move on.”
Jake Stanford, head coach of the men’s team, says his players have been excellent in handling the extra responsibilities thrown at them and that there are supports in place if anyone has a concern.
“You have to make sure the player’s safety and mental health are top priorities during these times,” he said.
“The players realize these regulations are for their safety and everyone’s safety across the league. How we handle these extra pressures is not always easy, but hopefully they find the freedom again to enjoy the sport and focus on playing.”
The return to play is significant for master’s of science (physics) student Katie Joyce, who returned home after completing her undergraduate degree in Ontario.
“It was really special to have my family, especially my parents, at our home opener,” she said. “After a year without varsity sports, to be back home and playing with teammates and coaches I’ve grown up with, is especially meaningful.”
The Sea-Hawks teams continued to train during the cancelled season to keep in tip-top shape. They also took a pre-season trip to Nova Scotia earlier this month to shake off the rust and get accustomed to the level of play again.
Players in this province also had the benefit of playing with their domestic club teams over the summer.
One additional challenge for coaching staff was virtual recruitment, which included assessing some filmed games instead of live ones.
“We had to rely entirely on Zoom calls to identify talent and get to know prospective student-athletes,” said Mike Power, head coach of the women’s soccer team.
“I do feel we adapted quickly, however, and we’re quite happy with our recruits.”
“Seeing a player live and getting that one-on-one meeting is always the best for recruiting,” added Coach Stanford. “You adapt to the times and move on. I feel we handled it well.”
Eyes on the prize
Now that the season is underway, the teams have put the past behind them and set their sights solely on what’s ahead.
“Our goal is to win a championship,” said Ms. Joyce. “We put so much time and effort in and we hope to see it pay off.”
Captain Carter agreed: “Our goal is to win.”
Coach Stanford echoes the players’ sentiments but also notes the importance of being a well-balanced student-athlete.
“Being a Sea-Hawks player is something we want all athletes to strive for. We want our students to have success on the pitch but also in the classroom so they can set themselves up for their next chapter.”