By Herald on January 8, 2021.
In a COVID-19-shortened 2020, it was just as much about what the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns did on the court as much as they did off of it.
As the calendar turned to March and with some sports still going, the pandemic sent Horns athletics to the locker room a little earlier than they would have liked.
Still, before COVID kicked in, there were some note-worthy performances on the rugby pitch and the track and more accomplishments away from the sporting venues continuing into the latter part of 2020.
On the track, third-year thrower Andreas Troschke stepped onto the podium at both the Canada West and U SPORTS Championship.
Troschke won his first Canada West gold medal in the weigh throw — an achievement that eluded him in his first two years — and wrapped up his final season with the Horns with a bronze medal at the U SPORTS Championships in Edmonton, his third podium placement in as many years. Sitting outside the medal picture on his final throw, Troschke came up toss of 17.64 metres to move up to a bronze medal.
“The great thing for Larry’s (Steinke, Pronghorns head coach) program is they branched out,” said University of Lethbridge athletic director Neil Langevin. “The recent success of not just the throwing program — we still have lots of success in the throwing program — but with both Sandra (Latrace) and Andreas, we’re starting to grow in other ways.”
Latrace continued with her dominance in the long jump with her fourth Canada West gold medal and also took home the bronze medal in the 60m.
Unfortunately, she was unable to defend her U SPORTS titles in both events, suffering an injury in training prior to the U SPORTS Championships.
While 2020 was looking promising for the Pronghorns rugby 7s team, COVID tackled those hopes in March, shutting down athletics just as the team was gearing up for Nationals.
“We were four days away from heading to Nationals with 7s rugby, and that was a veteran group as well. So that really was a kick,” said Langevin, the coach of the both the Pronghorns rugby 7s team as well as the 15s.
The Pronghorns were ranked in the top-five nationally prior to the U SPORTS championship.
“We had finally learned how to play in a variety of different ways,” said Langevin. “Coming in we had Hailey Driscoll, who was a Pronghorn Athlete of the Year and that was her fifth year and being named an all-Canadian during the 15s season. We had her and quite a few players in their fourth year. So we were really poised and it was a real kick in the gut to not even get a chance to compete.”
Still, there was hope the Canada West would be back up and running by the fall when things ground to a painful halt in mid-March.
“Everybody had a sense we were going to be fine and come back in September and we would largely be back to normal,” said Langevin.
That wasn’t the case when September rolled around, but the Horns athletic director gave credit to his athletes and coaches for continuing the best they could in the circumstances as the fall season was cancelled.
“I’m proud of our athletes and our programs that we did return to train in September and October in the first semester and largely our athletes weren’t hampered too much by our own COVID issues,” said Langevin. “We had a few cases, but considering the case counts in the province and the rest of the city, we’re really proud of our athletes that way when we returned to train.”
The Pronghorns were unable to rack up any impressive athletic feats in the fall portion, but put up some impressive numbers in the classroom and the community.
“We did have a record number of athletes achieve the Academic All-Canadian. So that was a positive,” said Langevin of the 84 Pronghorn athletes who achieved that title, topping their previous best total of 75 in 2016-17.
Those 84 Pronghorns accounted for more than 40 per cent of the school’s eligible varsity athletes achieving the status.
When COVID cancelled this year’s Operation Red Nose, the Horns remained busy in other capacities.
“We put out a call when Operation Red Nose was cancelled and we took a chance to do some public service announcements with the Lethbridge Police,” said Langevin. “(As well) we were able to fundraise a few more dollars for the Deb Steacy Academic All-Canadian Scholarship.”
The Pronghorns teamed up with the Alberta Sports Development Southwest for a 10-session coaching development series done over Zoom conferences.
“That was really well-attended,” said Langevin. “Then we had the two-part BIPOC series, which is still reaping benefits and we’re still working on things we learned during that time.”
The BIPOC series focused on the roles that student-athletes, coaches and administrators have in creating a more inclusive community through tackling social injustices.
Unfortunately, there was one sport at the university that was halted, but not by COVID, as the Pronghorns hockey program was terminated in April due to budget cuts.
The decision understandably drew backlash from players and fans alike, but Langevin pointed to an initiative put forth by U of L president Mike Mahon.
“When the program was unfortunately terminated, the university and Mike made a pledge to help athletes if they stayed,” he said. “I don’t think the community at large really understands that is in the tune of $100,000 in scholarships to those athletes in this year alone. It’s (bad) news that we had to cut the program, but it does show the resolve of the university to help fund these students who were caught in the middle.”
Shortly after the news, a committee was formed to look at the possibility of one year bringing the hockey programs back.
However, by withdrawing its hockey program, the team cannot be reinstated for two years.
“We’ve probably met six times, at least, and considerable work has been done,” said Langevin. “We’re hoping to get a proposal to the senior administration in the New Year.”
With the tough 2020 in the rearview mirror, the Pronghorns eye up some potential spring play before turning their focus squarely to fall of 2021.
“I’m hopeful we’ll get some exhibition play for our basketball teams,” said Langevin. “It might not be as many games as we were hoping for since time is running out. We’re working on returning to play next fall and working on schedules for all of our sports. That’s the hopeful plan, that we’re able to start in the fall.”
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