By Zachary Flynn
“This was my kind of victory lap this year to play one more season while I was out on practicum but I’ll be graduating in April so it’ll be time to move onto the real world, I guess,” said 3rd-year player men’s volleyball player, Jonathan Shapka.
The 2020-21 season would have marked Shapka’s final year as an Ook, but that opportunity was taken away when the ACAC announced in early November that they would cancel this years’ season.
However, it’s provided some of the younger athletes with a unique opportunity.
“It’s a blessing in disguise for these young guys because it doesn’t affect any of their eligibility, so they’re going to be coming into the league a year older, a year stronger and a year more experienced than they would otherwise,” said Shapka.
Despite the news, the team, along with other Ooks men’s and women’s teams are still getting in reps at practice over the winter to stay sharp for next year.
Shapka said that even though the ACAC didn’t give him the news he was hoping for, he’s happy to at least have an answer as to what the team should expect this year and he’ll continue to practice with the team over the winter.
“When we were first put into the situation not knowing whether there was a season or not, it was kind of difficult for guys to go to training with that idea of we don’t even know what we’re training for,” he said.
“I think in some ways, by saying ‘hey look, there’s not going to be a season,’ it kind of upped the morale of a lot of the guys.”
That positive outlook isn’t isolated to the men’s volleyball team.
Cass Lyttle, a 4th-year forward on the women’s hockey team says her group has been continuing to stay positive and keep the energy up at practice.
“Stef Thomson and all of our coaching staff have been really good through this whole process and they’ve been good with keeping good spirits and attitudes,” said Lyttle.
“Knowing that we have a lot of time to work on things, it’s still important to make sure that we maintain that competitive edge because eventually we’ll be back to the summer and our offseason months, so it’ll be good to utilize the time we have now to prepare us for next year.”
While Lyttle was hopeful, she had heard the news of other organizations across the country shutting down their seasons, so she was prepared for the ACAC news.
“I always hear about the stuff that’s happening in Manitoba, so when they announced that the junior league was cancelled until January, I could feel that it was coming [to Alberta],” said Lyttle.
“Then I saw [Canada West] cancel their season and I knew [the ACAC was] going to have to come down to a final decision and I had prepared myself for the worst.”
Even though there won’t be any ACAC competition this year, out of town players on the women’s hockey team like Lyttle have all still chosen to come to Edmonton to train and be with the team. She says the team comradery and social opportunities that training brings have been very helpful.
“It’s been nice because other than being at the rink, we’re just at our homes doing school work so it’s good having that away setting and getting on the ice when we can,” said Lyttle.
Shapka shares the same view, enjoying the opportunity he has to spend the winter with his team before his collegiate volleyball career comes to a close.
“There’s no bar life, there’s no room for activities, so to be able to meet on a weekly basis with a like-minded group of guys sharing a passion for something, it’s great,” said Shapka.
“Having battled mental health in the past, it’s reassuring, it’s solid. It’s a great way to take out a day’s frustration, shoot a few jokes around, and laugh with some guys while feeling safe in the environment and knowing that you’re not compromising yourself or your family in any way.”
With concerns for student health being the ultimate deciding factor in the ACAC’s November decision, Shapka says that the teams are actively working to create and maintain a safe training environment over the winter.
“We’re sanitizing everything, we’re wearing masks, we’re social distancing and we’re making sure that we’re taking all of those precautions,” he said.
“We’re taking every precaution that we possibly can to make sure that this is continued and it can be an example to other programs and other groups that we can, during these difficult times, have these types of physical fitness and social gatherings in a safe and effective way.”