author: konstantin kharitonov| sports editor
Saying goodbye to the team is always the hardest part / Nathan mccarville
Leaving university sport after five years
It is an emotional farewell when a university athlete plays their final game and has to say goodbye to their team, After a five–year career of waking up everyday to a life of training, practice, and playing games draws to an end, it is only then can all of the ups and downs of the experience be truly appreciated. And appreciative is how fifth–year volleyball player and upcoming graduate Leah Sywanyk feels after playing her final game in a University of Regina Cougars uniform against the UBC Thunderbirds in the quarterfinals this past month.
When speaking with Sywanyk about graduating from the program, she mentioned how different it will feel waking up everyday after university.
“It already has a very weird feeling to it. I have so much free time, I am not constantly doing laundry, and my weekends aren’t spent in a gym or on the bus.”
The most difficult part of the leaving for the former outside hitter was saying goodbye to the people that have been such a large part of her life. Sywanyk talked about the bond that was formed with each player and coach that has influenced her university career.
“Saying goodbye to the game is one thing, but saying goodbye to the lifelong friends I’ve made with the Cougars is another. The team has helped me through some of the most challenging situations I’ve been faced with, and knowing that I won’t be constantly surrounded by these positive supports is a tough pill to swallow.”
“That being said, I am fortunate to have met such a moving group and I know they are all a text away!”
As an upcoming graduate, Sywanyk was excited for the type of role that she was going to play. For the past few years, she was a relief player who would be subbed in during a game, which requires a strong mental capability and ability to perform under pressure. Unfortunately, a protruding disc in her L5 vertebrae caused Sywanyk to miss significant time throughout her final year. This resulted in Sywanyk to take on a more veteran role, being an example to the younger players by making sure to be on top of school and her physical rehabilitation in the first semester of her final year. Even through her physical struggles, Sywanyk made sure to do all she could to contribute to the up–and–coming volleyball team.
“My goal in my first semester was to be an Academic All-Canadian again and be dressed in my jersey on my fifth year night, as opposed to taking stats on the bench. I achieved both of these and had a lot of fun in doing so. I think it is important to remember that everyone has a role on every team and contributions come from all over, not just on the court.”
The injury trouble had started out in the first semester, where even simple movements like getting dressed were excruciating. However, after taking some time off to heal, Leah was able to make her return to the court.
“I did not practice or dress all first semester. Being a gritty athlete, I tried my best to play through the excruciating pain, but ultimately it came down to the school physiotherapist telling me to rest. A few consecutive days off in December seemed to have the magic touch and I was back in the lineup for the second semester.”
While the year was not too kind for Sywanyk with her injury troubles, she mentioned just how the successful the year was for the team as a whole. The Cougars volleyball team finished the year off with a 16-8 record, which is outstanding for a program that just two years prior had a three–win season.
“Not only did we win 10 straight games in the second semester, we set a record for most wins in program history and hosted a playoff game for the third time in school history. My teammates, Taylor Ungar, Ashlee Sandiford, and Satomi Togawa all won major Canada West awards. Our head coach won Canada West Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. These awards alone help contribute to the dynasty of Cougars volleyball here in Regina.”
And for the first time in what seems like forever, the Cougars becoming a real contender is a real possibility. With the amount of talent currently on the roster, finally the Cougars are poised do some real damage in the years to come. A sentiment that Sywanyk shared when asked about the state of the program.
“We have a great coaching staff that goes above and beyond for the team, great facilities, and overall great athletes. I think we have a lot of skill coming from our younger players.”
While Sywanyk doesn’t have plans to continue on to pursue playing volleyball professionally, she still intends on being one of the biggest supporters of the team, cheering on her friends in the coming years. She does mention, however, that she could see herself behind the bench.
“I am open to assistant–coaching club teams and always happy to help out my high school team [Greenall High School], but as for me, I am content with how my career played out and I am ready for my future career. I am currently doing my fieldwork at Regina Police Victim Services, which has made the transition from ending a five–year volleyball career much easier.”
What a career it was. In her closing thoughts on what she achieved during her time as a Cougar athlete, she mentioned how proud she was of what she accomplished, but most importantly, she is proud of who she has become as a person.
“My proudest moment as an athlete has been shaping into the person I am today and the person I want to be. Five years of post-secondary volleyball has been an incredible ride, and I am excited for what my future holds!”