Even though COVID-19 has put a halt to sports for much of the last 10 months, coaches like Lethbridge College‘s Anna Schwark have still signed new rookies since the pandemic began.
Schwark locked up four new recruits in 2020, including Canmore’s Lindsay Nunn, whose start with the Kodiaks women’s volleyball team was far from conventional.
“(Anna) couldn’t watch me play, or meet me, or see who I was as a person, which is a huge thing,” said Nunn, who didn’t meet her new head coach until the Kodiaks first COVID-friendly practice in September.
Nunn says she signed with the program despite a lot of unknowns about Lethbridge College — unknowns that she viewed as an exciting adventure.
“I had never seen the campus, or seen their gym or anything like that before, so it was pretty new for me in general,” she said. “All I knew about campus and rez was just from the pictures and stuff, and what I heard from other people.”
Now coaches like Schwark are back fully into recruiting mode early in 2021, as they prepare for what they hope is a real season beginning in the fall.
Schwark says young athletes are eager to lock down spots for the fall, pushing for opportunities in a unique situation.
“Pushy is a great word, I’m going to say that I’m getting a lot of pushy athletes, and I mean that in the best way possible. They have to be,” she said. “The pool of recruits that I have access to is so big.”
Schwark believes there’s a combination of things responsible for more athletes than usual knocking on her door.
For one, athletes’ five years of eligibility — in both the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association and U Sports — will not be impacted by the current post-secondary year, meaning more athletes than planned will be sticking around for the 2021-2022 season.
“For me, for example, I have a problem,” she said. “It’s a great problem, but right now, 100 per cent of my athletes want to come back next year.”
University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s basketball coach Jermaine Small is also experiencing the pressure of recruiting during a pandemic.
He believes the calibre of talent available will be even higher than usual in 2021, especially with schools south of the border less likely to take risks on Canadian athletes that they haven’t had a chance to see in person.
“I think U Sports is going to have an injection of a lot of really good talent this year, just because kids are going to lose opportunities going to the U.S.,” he said.
Small said the result — while disappointing for elite athletes across the country — could be an opportunity to sign extremely talented players.
But the trickle-down effect will perhaps mean some players who would normally make the cut for post-secondary might not get the chance.
The first-year Pronghorns coach says he’s expecting a “frenzy” of kids still looking for places to play later in the spring.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘desperation,’ but I think that because they have been robbed of that opportunity to showcase themselves — especially the kids in their last year — they’ve had to be more aggressive,” said Small.
Both Small and Schwark say athletes who have been able to provide highlight reels and quality video over the last year have been at a big advantage during the recruiting process.