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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Yue

In conversation with rising runner Abbey Yuhasz; on recruitment, Canada experience and next steps

Canada’s rising distance star, Abbey Yuhasz shares her recruitment experience and how the pandemic changes the recruitment process for the next class of athletes

Abbey Yuhasz leading the pack at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships in Abbotsford, BC. / Jonathan Yue

Abbey Yuhasz has been a cross country/track standout throughout her years at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener, Ont., and earned the interest of many NCAA and U Sports schools.

The recruitment process began earlier than most high school athletes for the Waterloo, Ont.,-native. She had just competed in the senior girls race as a grade 10 at the 2017 Ontario Federation of School Athletics Association (OFSAA) Cross Country Championships, when her first recruitment offer arrived. That was when she realized she could pursue running well into high school and possibly, a post-secondary career.

From the beginning of her grade 11 year, Yuhasz began treating it like another course, spending hours on the phone, sending out letters to schools and coaches to see which schools fit. For her, she had three criteria in mind.

“I wanted good coaching and a good team. A coach that really care about their athletes and really wanted to make me better and a team that had people who were focused and dedicated to working together and making each other better,” Yuhasz explained.

“Second was academically, I had to make sure they had the programs I wanted and third, was climate,” Yuhasz said with a laugh. “I really wanted to go somewhere warm. I was sick of the Canadian snow and wanted to train somewhere where I could be in shorts and t-shirt for more than two-months of the year.”

Late last November, Yuhasz received the call. Seeing her phone light up, the caller ID showed a number from the University of Tulsa.

When the phone call ended, Yuhasz became the newest member of the Tulsa Hurricane track and field team.

“It was cool because [Steve Gulley] and Tulsa had been the first school to contacted me when I first sent out that mass email of who I was and my stats,” Yuhasz said, recalling how she had to step out of class to take the call. “We talked for almost an hour, talking about school, hobbies, and I felt like he was talking to me as a person and I didn’t feel like I was just an athlete who ran some good races.”

“After that, we would talk almost once every month, after big races about how things went, what I could have done better.”

The only thing that Yuhasz says she looks back with any regret was the signing party that followed the official commitment in May.

“I wasn’t that into it [at the time] and I kind of wish I went back and did something, but I ended up getting the papers at school. I signed them, took a photo next to a Phoenix sign by myself and that was that,” Yuhasz said. “Looking back at that point, I had known for so long that it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

This year, things will be different for prospective athletes looking to make the jump from the high school ranks to the university or college levels. Even for Yuhasz, she arrived in Oklahoma early to quarantine before the start of training camp.

Having settled in since July, Yuhasz has acclimated herself smoothly with the Hurricanes.

“I was able to get right into training with the older group,” Yuhasz said. “Because of the distance I run and the times that I’ve run, it was really cool being challenged by these older girls and high level athletes and keeping up with them which was a big confidence booster for me.”

With 2020 being such a different year, the prospects of athletes continuing to compete collegiately doesn’t change. For the athletes looking to make the transition after graduating high school, Yuhasz offers her advice.

“Take the time to have the conversations,” Yuhasz says. “I would spend hours on the phone, hours doing research. It’s worth it because you never know, there’s always that ‘what if’. ‘What if I missed a call, what if they were actually the right school for me.’ And also take the time to call back, even when you’re not sure about the school. It keeps your options open.”

Opportunity to represent Canada was ‘So Important’

While her Tulsa Hurricanes debut will have to wait until further notice, Yuhasz has already gained international experience with Team Canada.

In addition to sending out her stats to schools, Yuhasz continued to bolster her portfolio on the track. Representing Canada at the 2019 Pan American U20 Championships in Costa Rica, she finished fourth in the women’s 5,000-metre race. She followed it up with a first place finish at OFSAA XC on November 2, 2019, finishing in a time of 24:25.40 before travelling to Abbotsford, BC, for the Canadian Cross Country Championships, where she added a fourth place finish in the women’s U20 race with a time of 20:57.82 as a part of the Laurel Creek Track Club.

With her success donning the Canadian singlet on the world stage, the 18-year-old believes it pushes her to another level.

“It’s one thing to travel with the team you train with, but it’s another to travel with a group of high-level athletes who are coming from all over Canada, who have different training programs, different coaches, to hear their story and learn about how they train, and to room with them, it’s a whole other level of experience,” Yuhasz says.

“I credit a lot of my mentality and a lot of how I find my success to those experiences and learning from other athletes. ‘What do you do when you’re injured, what do you do when you have an off-day, what do you eat on those days? I really enjoy hearing different ways of doing things.”

With the depth of the Canadian women’s distance team on full display, with the likes of Gabriela Debues-Stafford, Rachel Cliff, Natasha Wodak, Jessica O’Connell, and Andrea Seccafien among those on the Athletics Canada World Championships team, Yuhasz hopes that her talents eventual gets her among those names.

“Every year, I just want to improve incrementally. This year, I want to get around the 16:40-16:50 range in the 5,000-metres, I’m definitely fit enough for it,” Yuhasz adds, mentioning how she wants to also add the 10,000-metres to her arsenal.

With the uncertainty of when competitions will start up again, Yuhasz has her goals in mind and it starts with getting back to competing in bigger competitions. Her eyes are set on the NACAC Championships in Kenya next summer and who knows where that will take her.

“Getting back to the international stage, racing in bigger races, and getting good results, I really hope to follow in their footsteps and represent Canada at the Olympic Games.”

© Jonathan Yue
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