After a cancelled 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Memorial University Sea-Hawks are preparing to take flight.
On Wednesday Atlantic University Sport — the organization representing 11 Atlantic Canadian universities — announced its intentions to hold a full 2021-22 season beginning in September with football, soccer, rugby and cross-country competition.
Winter sports, such as basketball, are expected to follow, according to an AUS media release.
For head coach Mark English of the MUN women's basketball team it's an exciting moment and another step toward normalcy.
"It was pretty exciting to see that release come out today, to get that assurance that next year is good to go, especially after this past year," English told CBC News.
"It was a very unique situation that everybody was in across the country, not just the AUS."
Plans for a fall 2021 return to sport were unanimously supported at a recent meeting of the AUS board of directors, according to the organization, which is made up of the presidents of each of its 11 member universities across Atlantic Canada.
According to the AUS, the conference's management council attended virtual annual meetings earlier in June where progress was made on finalizing the schedules along with plans for updating the AUS return-to-play plan. The mandate was to develop a strategy which would allow for a safe and viable return to competition. The plan includes guidelines for participants and facilities, travel considerations, risk mitigation strategies and contingency plans and possible approaches to programming.
English said MUN's women's team is in a fortunate place ahead of next season with none of the players set to graduate yet and therefore not missing out on another year on the court.
"I know some programs around the country have had that, where fifth years that are graduating can't play their final season," English said.
"So we're fortunate for that. I think it's just a big sigh of relief that we're getting back to some normal sport and what we've been used to for the last number of years."
The AUS said its return-to-sport plan was reviewed by public health in the four Atlantic provinces, as well as the AUS board of directors. The organization said the plan is in the process of being updated and will be "pivotal to the conference's return to play in the 2021-22 season."
The plan hinges on most current public health directives, which will determine the approach for next season. Any and all planned competition may be altered or cancelled in the event of a new or worsening outbreak of COVID-19 in any of the Atlantic provinces.
"As a department we're extremely excited to have this news come out. Talking to the other coaches in the department we're just excited to keep moving forward and getting back on the court," English said.