The Durham Lords men’s soccer team hasn’t played in more than a year, which was during their indoor soccer season.
Their last games were March 12, 2020, where they played three games that day in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) men’s indoor championship, going 1-2 and failing to qualify for the elimination round of the provincial tournament.
Prior to that, in November 2019, the Lords won their first Canadian (outdoor) championship in program history.
Since then, there hasn’t been an outdoor season, as all OCAA sports have been cancelled due to the pandemic. It’s common at all universities and colleges in Canada. Sports have been dead for more than a year and student-athletes can only focus on the ‘student’ part right now.
Lords’ defenders Ryan Cullen and Nate Paine, who are confirmed to return to the Durham program this fall, have taken different approaches to the pandemic.
“I decided to take a year off from school as I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to succeed online as much as I do when I’m in the classroom,” Cullen said.
Added Paine: “The transition was very odd to say the least. For the last three years I’ve been in the routine of finishing assignments when I get home and then instantly getting ready to go to training.”
Paine distracted himself from COVID-19 by going out to do individual training sessions.
“I’m fortunate enough to have a job that’s deemed as essential so I’ve been able to work throughout the course of the pandemic as well,” he said.
Dave Ashfield, head coach of the Lords, said it’s been a difficult year for athletes and coaches.
“I am disappointed that I have not been able to coach a competitive game since Nov. 9, 2019, however, that game was so special it has helped in this time where we cannot coach or play,” Ashfield said.
Cullen said it’s frustrating not being able to connect with his teammates.
“It’s tough, just wondering when all of this will end because it’s been so long that we haven’t played a game,” he said.
Ashfield’s work as a police officer at the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) has kept him very busy during these times.
“Being out in the community and making a difference as best I can each day has been a great distraction,” he said. “It has been amazing seeing the resilience of people for the last year plus, however, I have seen many tragic moments as well.”
Paine said the pandemic taught him to live life at its fullest.
“I’ll definitely start taking more time out to just enjoy life and my surroundings because you never know when everything will change,” he said.
After a year without play, while it will feel like he’s starting the program all over, Ashfield said it’s something the Lords actually do every year.
“We have larger roster rollover than university programs, so really it will be no different when we play again to approach the start of a new season as my staff and I always do,” he said.
The recruiting process is still going on, but it had to be done differently.
“Recruiting and conversations about our program have mostly been driven by Zoom-style meetings, phone calls and emails,” he said. “With the incoming players having so little time to play this year more than ever tryouts may mould our decisions a little more than normal.”
So far, the Lords have added forward Evan Jerrett from St. Paul Catholic S.S. in Trenton. Jerrett is a versatile athlete who has won MVP awards in soccer, rugby, basketball and track. Jerrett has also been competing at the club level for a number of years with the FC Durham Academy.
“In picking up Evan he was a dynamic player I have watched for a while with FC Durham.” Ashfield said. “They use our facility, so it has been easy to keep tabs on him. He is the dynamic multi-position player we like to build our team around as it allows the coaching staff to have options.”
In terms of new faces, the Lords have lots of questions but overall they expect about 75 per cent or more new faces when they resume, as most of the players they would have got back are now in a position to graduate, according to Ashfield.
“At this time I anticipate a few old faces will be returning but no firm confirmations,” he said.
Ashfield said there are plans to start up again in the fall of 2021, as DC athletic director Ken Babcock has been a driving force in the OCAA in getting the students back to having sports.
“At this time we hope to have a season of some sort, but obviously the restrictions will need to be lifted and we have to pray that we do not suffer another wave,” Ashfield said.
“I just want to get out there with the boys and have a good time,” Cullen said.