Nova Scotia’s student athletes are ready to compete again.
All university level sports were halted after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 caused a surge in cases in the province.
Atlantic University Sports, the governing body for university sports in the Atlantic Provinces, announced on Dec. 23 that all university sport events will be paused until Jan. 19, and then extended that pause on Jan 14.
But now as restrictions begin to ease, officials are targeting Feb. 18 as the date when competition may resume.
“Based on the last announcement from public health, they’re looking at the 14th (of February) to lift some restrictions that will allow us to play,” said AUS executive director Phil Currie.
Currie said teams will need a few days to prepare for competition, so they have set Feb. 18 as the first day that student athletes will be back in action following the extended hiatus.
“We’ve just been working relentlessly, just trusting in the government system here that we will have a chance to return to play,” said Keevan Veinot, a member of Dalhousie’s men’s basketball team.
“Now that we’ve found out that we can return to play, it all feels worthwhile,” said Veinot.
Following New Brunswick’s easing of restrictions, AUS announced last week New Brunswick schools will return to competition on Feb. 11.
The St. Mary’s University women’s hockey team had the best record in the conference when the season was paused for the winter break. Head coach Christopher Larade says that while he wishes his team could be playing when the season resumes he knows they will be back on the ice in no time.
Larade said that New Brunswick teams starting a week earlier likely means they will be able to play one more game than the Nova Scotia schools.
“To be honest with you, everybody’s been off for a little over two months. So I think it’s going to take more than one game to get the rust off and the kinks out,” said Larade.
Shae Demale is a third-year forward for SMU. She leads the AUS in both points and goals.
“It’s definitely exciting. I think that we just want to keep rolling with what we were doing in the first half. We’ll be ready when we get the chance to go,” said Demale.
Teams have been able to practise while games have been put on hold, although staying focused on winning games is much more difficult when you don’t know when your next game will be.
“That’s the challenge, just to keep them motivated with the intention of hopefully getting back, but when you don’t have a clear-cut target date it makes it tough,” said Rick Plato, head coach of Dalhousie’s men’s basketball team.
“I’m sure that once they (the players) know that we’re going to be picking up again that they’re going to be just as intense and committed as they always are,” said Plato.
Dalhousie first year guard Nginyu Ngala has had his first two university seasons interrupted by COVID-19. He says it feels good knowing he will be back on the court soon and picking up where he and his team left off, with the best record in the AUS.
“Guys were kind of heavy coming back from the winter break, but I think we’re ready to go back to where we were and keep that momentum going,” said Ngala.
It is unclear whether national championships will be able to take place this year with the current state of the pandemic. Currie says that in order for nationals to happen all of the country’s respective conferences need to be able to complete their seasons.
“We’re all working together on trying to pull this thing together and finish off with a decent bit of competition as well as postseason,” said Currie
If the opportunity for nationals presents itself, players will be ready.
“We have a silver (medal), but a gold would be a lot better. So we’re gonna have that in our minds, and that’s our goal,” said Alex Carson, fifth-year guard for Dalhousie’s men’s basketball team, referring to Dalhousie’s silver medal finish at the 2020 U Sports Championships.
“We’ll be ready when when the puck drops for us for sure,” said Demale.