Due to the rising threat posed by the Omicron variant, the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) has postponed the season until January 27.
While no one knows what the structure and schedule will look like for the remainder of the season, one thing is clear: this turbulent journey is taking its toll on student athletes.
Andrew Wiebe, a second-year volleyball player, talks about the obstacles student-athletes have to face in terms of remaining physically and mentally fit for the season — should it resume.
“It is a massive learning curve all over again. It’s challenging because our team has players from all over Canada and so we have to deal with varying restrictions, and the time difference does not help.”
Wiebe goes on to mention certain teammates who are working out with loaded backpacks at home because they do not have access to the facilities they need in order to remain competitive. While Wiebe believes that the decision to postpone the season was made in order to help keep everyone safe, he expresses frustration and feels helpless in controlling the outcome.
“We did everything we could have. We followed the protocols and still the season had to be postponed.”
Prior to OUA’s announcement, Wiebe says that players had a feeling they might postpone the season and they cleared out their lockers beforehand. When asked whether the players think the season will resume, Wiebe preferred to not jinx anything.
“All we want is to represent our university in a sport that we love.”
According to Wiebe when asked if he thinks fans will be allowed to attend games, he says that having fans to cheer them on would be amazing, however, if restrictions are in place, then that is fine too. All he wants is to be able to compete again.
Although Wiebe expresses frustration with the provincial government for not classifying OUA as ‘elite amateur’, he expressed nothing but admiration for the coaching and support staff at York.
Echoing similar thoughts, the head coach of the women’s hockey team Dan Church says, “The health and safety of the student athletes is what is the staff’s priority.”
Church and the coaching staff at York are working with other universities and the OUA to try to come up with a plan to finish the season. However, he does remain hopeful that the season will resume after January 27.
“There is no frustration with the university or the OUA. There is just frustration with the pandemic.”
Church believes that everyone just wants to return to normalcy and that the only obstacle is the pandemic, not the administration. However, speaking for his department, Church does not want the return to normalcy to be at the expense of over-burdening the healthcare system.
Speaking more on the challenges of training athletes in a remote setting, Church says: “We are trying to stimulate the demands of our sport to the best of our abilities, while keeping in mind that not everyone has access to gyms and the rink.”
There was an acknowledgement of the growing concern regarding the mental health of student athletes on Church’s behalf. “During training, the staff always makes sure that the student’s mental health and wellness is at the forefront. And the resources provided by the university make it possible to do so.”
In a time when a lot of factors are outside of personal control, Church believes that it is important to focus on things we can control.
“It is within our control to care for our athletes. It is within our control to ensure that the level of performance needed in order to compete in the OUA is maintained.”
On the backhand of the coaching staff are students whose future hinges on the OUA season. Muskan Sehgal, a fourth-year kinesiology and health science and second-year athletic therapy student, explains that the bulk of their learning takes place through placements with varsity teams.
“It has been hard to navigate through that with the restrictions taking place right now. We are still fortunate enough to have some aspects of our program in person, but it would be better if we were able to get back to working alongside teams.”
The OUA is hoping for a safe return to its winter sport schedule; being rightfully labeled as ‘elite’ will be a critical step in student athletes returning to training. Further information can be found here.