There & back again

After spending years down south, NCAA transfers come home

Goaltender Caitlyn Lahonen spent two seasons with the St. Lawrence Skating Saints, before transferring to Queen’s in 2012.
Goaltender Caitlyn Lahonen spent two seasons with the St. Lawrence Skating Saints, before transferring to Queen’s in 2012.
Running back and defensive back Brendan Morgan began his Queen’s career this season after leaving the University of Virginia.
Running back and defensive back Brendan Morgan began his Queen’s career this season after leaving the University of Virginia.

Caitlyn Lahonen was fed up with the NCAA.

Back in 2012, the women’s hockey goaltender had just finished her second season at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, when she decided to come back to Canada, transferring to Queen’s.

Lahonen hails from Sharon, Ont., but her original decision to attend an NCAA school is one becoming increasingly common among young Canadian athletes. In recent years, basketball phenom Andrew Wiggins and Olympic hockey hero Marie-Philip Poulin have headed to schools south of the border.

Money is one reason for this trend — American NCAA schools can offer prospective players full scholarships, while Ontario universities are limited to $4,000 at most.

Lahonen was initially enticed with a full ride, but her playing experiences in the States eventually led her to the CIS.

“After two years, I just didn’t enjoy it anymore,” she said. “It’s like they own you. You play so much hockey that it’s not fun anymore. They push you to the limit.”

Playing collegiately in America comes with an increased focus on winning and the athletic side of the university experience. While the level of play is high in the NCAA, Lahonen said, the CIS offers a more balanced approach to sports and education.

“[Here], you get to experience everything a student really should experience,” she said. “I feel like at Queen’s, school comes first, and that’s awesome.

“In the NCAA, it’s hockey first, academics second.”

The 2013-14 season marked Lahonen’s first on the ice with the Gaels. She said that while some NCAA teams play at a faster tempo, Queen’s would be able to compete with several Division I schools in the US.

In five OUA games this season, Lahonen posted a 1.38 goals against average and a .944 save percentage.

Due to transfer rules, Lahonen had to wait a year before suiting up for Queen’s, but a new regulation established last November means future transfers won’t have to go through the same experience. Starting next year, Canadian athletes playing in the States will be able to play immediately if they transfer to a CIS school.

Like Lahonen, football player Brendan Morgan had to sit out the 2012-13 season after transferring to Queen’s from the University of Virginia.

A running back and defensive back for Queen’s, Morgan said he agrees with the change.

“I think a lot of people thought it was strange that I had to sit out when I first transferred,” he said. “A player transferring from an NCAA school to a school up in Canada shouldn’t be a big issue. I think it’s a great idea.”

Morgan didn’t consider transferring to another NCAA school when he left Virginia. The Pickering, Ont. native made it clear he was going home, where the emphasis is placed on academics over athletics.

With Virginia being a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), a major NCAA division, football players were more noticeable to the general student population, Morgan said. The importance placed on athletics meant student-athletes were treated differently by their peers.

“They kind of worshipped the athletes. That’s just the way it is down south. Here, not so much because athletics isn’t the main focus,” Morgan said. “There, you have stadiums where it’s 40,000-plus fans watching you play. People gravitate to that.”

While his transfer meant he crossed the border back into Canada, Morgan said the largest shift for him was similar to most transfer students — adjusting to a new university.

“The biggest thing was the change in environment. You’re at a school for that many years, you kind of adapt to it, and become comfortable,” he said. “And just like that, you switch to a different school. I think that might have been the biggest adjustment.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.