Ethan Finnigan had hoped to play for the UVic Vikes. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Ethan Finnigan had hoped to play for the UVic Vikes. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Island’s top high school athletes remain on sidelines

Recruiting for university on hiatus, as COVID-19 strangles post-secondary opportunities

What was a tough year for Ethan Finnigan is now made worse as he joins hundreds of talented Grade 12 athletes trying to figure out how to compete for a spot at university next year.

Last mont, Canada’s national governing body for competitive university athletics, U Sports, further delayed winter championships and has already cancelled the fall competitive season. Even the Vikes’ golf season, which was believed to have been one of the sports that could work, was cancelled before its Oct. 2 tournament.

Questions linger not only about if, or when, sports teams will play, but also on the eligibility of players.

It makes it that much harder for athletes like Finnigan, who is expected to be a difference-maker in club soccer this year playing in the premier division of the senior men’s Vancouver Island Soccer League.

The talented Grade 12 soccer player missed the bulk of Oak Bay’s Grade 11 soccer season with a broken collar bone.

“I was playing some of my best soccer for Oak Bay High when I got injured in the [2018] Island finals and missed provincials,” Finnigan said. “I had hoped to play for the Vikes… I definitely want to play at the university level… I don’t know what will happen right now.”

READ ALSO: Canada West cancels fall sports due to COVID-19

READ ALSO: Thousands of varsity athletes in limbo as universities grapple with COVID-19

Both university and high school teams are training, but not allowed to compete. It’s still unknown as to whether this season will burn a season of playing eligibility for U Sports athletes. Case in point, the UVic Vikes women’s hockey team is on the cusp of a three-peat dynasty, a strong cast assembled around 2018 U Sports national field hockey player of the year Anna Mollenhauer.

“The Grade 12 year is often a huge one for athletes,” said Oak Bay High athletic director Rich Fast.

It’s not only the development of the athlete’s skills, but also the memories made, Fast noted.

“Think about the career of Steve Nash,” Fast said. “His only championships are from Grade 12, when he won the provincial soccer and basketball championships [with St. Michaels University School].”

It’s gutting for those high school students like three-sport athlete Anna Friesen. The Grade 12 Oak Bay High student competes at a high level in soccer, volleyball and track and field, but is focused solely on academics post-secondary.

“It’s a major disappointment,” Friesen said. “From Grade 9, you work towards the Grade 12 year. For many of us this is the best you’ll be if you’re not going on to play at university/college level. You mature and strengthen your body, and I don’t get that chance to test myself one final time against people going [to compete at] university.”

Another wrinkle is that youth club sports are competing as they are under a different umbrella. However, not all leagues are able to run as usual, such as B.C. School Sports.

It creates an unequal opportunity as youth basketball’s elite rely on high school sports for recruitment. Vikes women’s soccer coach Traci David relies on live scouting, including the B.C. Soccer Premier League, to see the best play the best in B.C.

However, that league is limited to cohorts of four teams right now. Mainland teams aren’t visiting here (at least not yet) and taking the ferry to watch the Mainland’s top U18 talent is currently not an option for David.

“The majority of elite players are in that league,” she said. “Normally I’d be taking trips there to watch but I can’t. I can’t come back and then isolate a few days. I have [Vikes] training to lead.”

On top of that U Sports has implemented a moratorium of sorts on recruiting with a ban on prospective students visiting a university campus.

“Normally we would invite student-athletes to visit the campus,” David said. “They have lunch with the current athletes, meet the academic advisors, and we create a nice little package for them that they are missing right now.”

Under normal circumstances, David said the best of U Sports level athletes would already have signed their commitment for 2021 by now. But they haven’t. Many are waiting.

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reporter@oakbaynews.com

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