By Donald Higney
The last time the majority of Ryerson’s athletes had the chance to play competitive sports was during the winter season of the 2019-20 academic year. After losing a year and a half due to the pandemic, Rams athletes are preparing to finally return to play.
On June 2, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announced its intention for league-based sport to return and the structure of its plan was released three weeks later on June 23. Divisions in basketball, hockey and soccer were re-shuffled to accommodate fewer games between teams that are further away from each other, while volleyball maintained its two division format.
All OUA sports are limited to divisional play during the regular season.
Jyoti Ruparell, a libero for the women’s volleyball team, hoped to play against all the OUA teams this year. Ruparell had her sights set on a quarter-final rematch from two seasons ago against University of Guelph.
“I’m excited for the whole process of watching our team grow”
She says she’s looking forward to playing against the University of Toronto and Queen’s University because of how intense and competitive the games are.
Setter Lauren Wong is also looking forward to playing UofT’s Varsity Blues again. “I love the intensity and rivalry between us and Toronto and it is always such a great game of talent, grit and resilience.”
“To me, that’s what sports are all about, pushing each other to be better and shaking hands afterwards, although I’m sure that’ll be taken away,” she jokes.
Soccer will be the first sport at Ryerson to return to play on Saturday, Sept. 25, when the men’s and women’s teams will take on the University of Toronto Varsity Blues at Varsity Stadium. Men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and volleyball all start their seasons the first week of November.
Teams at the university are already preparing for the upcoming season with practices underway.
Ryerson’s women’s volleyball team is focused on learning how to play with each other again as well as incorporating new players to the team, according to Ruparell and Wong.
“I’m excited for the whole process of watching our team grow and be better not only with volleyball, but I love the chemistry we make with each other,” said Wong.
Women’s basketball guard Tiya Misir says going to the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) has made her feel like a new person.
“The environment is so encouraging and competitive,” said Misir.
However, not every athlete has been able to take part in being on the court again or practice with new teammates.
Jama Bin-Edward, a forward for the women’s basketball team, isn’t cleared to play from an ACL injury that ended her 2019-20 season. Her surgery was pushed back due to the pandemic and she wasn’t able to see a therapist in-person for almost five months.
A lot of her physical therapy during that time was dealt with by the team’s athletic therapists through Zoom. She’s been able to work on dribbling and shooting, but hasn’t been able to fully practice.
“It’s just not the same as being able to have hands-on care,” she said.
“That’s what sports are all about, pushing each other to be better and shaking hands afterwards, although I’m sure that’ll be taken away”
Ryerson is also mandating that all student athletes from the school’s 33 varsity athletics and competitive club teams be fully vaccinated by Sept. 16, a decision that follows in the footsteps of the majority of OUA schools.
According to Ruparell, Ryerson has also implemented testing protocols and health screening procedures for athletes at the MAC.
Returning to the MAC felt eerie for Wong when she saw her friends in the weight room and wanted to hug them, but remembered the safety protocols and decided against it.
“It was an awkward encounter where we stood there deciding if we were able to hug anymore and it was disheartening,” said Wong.
“Volleyball is a very physical contact sport and that part of the game got taken away when the pandemic hit, but we are finding ways to continue to show support.”
Despite the turmoil of the last year and a half, the goals for varsity teams have not changed. Now more than ever they’re looking to compete for U SPORTS championships.