VICTORIA – Having a global pandemic cancel a season is hard on everyone: the coaches, the athletic therapists and the staff behinds the scenes. But it’s the players that are affected the most. Losing a season in what was supposed to be a student-athlete’s senior campaign is an unfortunate ending to a collegiate career. Now imagine the feeling of having your senior season delayed a year because of major surgery, rehabbing and making a full recovery only to get your senior season pulled out from underneath you a second time by something you can’t control.
That’s exactly what men’s basketball star Taylor Montgomery-Stinson has gone through over the past year and a half.
When the U SPORTS and Canada West news broke on Oct. 15, it prematurely closed the final chapter on a remarkable Vikes career.
Montgomery-Stinson was poised for an epic comeback – one that wins awards – but instead, his Vikes career is likely over.
“Our team had a lot of excitement and a lot to look forward to after last year’s impressive season. It’s too bad we won’t get the chance to run it back and see where we could have taken things,” said Montgomery-Stinson.
Of course, 19 months ago, the local product never thought he would be in this position.
Montgomery-Stinson was preparing for the Vikes spring league championship game. Everything was going well and for the first time in a while, he was fully healthy. A barking ankle plagued him all spring, but that was behind him at that point. He was focused on winning the championship and heading into his final year with some momentum and his sights set on brining home the Vikes 16th Canada West title.
Those plans quickly changed, as early in the fourth quarter, Montgomery-Stinson grabbed a rebound, spun to get around the opposition and collapsed to the ground.
Montgomery-Stinson’s knee was still in significant pain the following day, so he started seeing medical experts recommended by the Vikes Head Athletic Therapist, Traci Vander Byl, who was away on vacation. His left knee was put through a series of tests, but there was no conclusive answer to what was going on due to common post-injury swelling, pain and limited range of motion.
“The first thing that went through my mind when I heard about Taylor’s injury was that I felt bad for the student-athlete. He’s a guy that has put the work in for many, many years with us, has been committed and loyal to the program. It was disheartening because I knew he had a long road to recovery ahead of him,” said men’s basketball Head Coach Craig Beaucamp.
Waiting for a verdict, uncertainty began swirling around Montgomery-Stinson’s head. If it was the worst-case scenario and he was forced to miss an entire season of basketball, he didn’t have enough courses in his double major to keep him eligible for the 2020-21 season. He also missed the deadline to apply for the 2019-20 master’s program.
The return of Vander Byl and a week of acute injury management helped clear up a lot of his questions.
“When there’s ACL injuries like his, there’s usually a lot of swelling around the knee that can act like a splint. If you’re not there within the first couple minutes of the injury, it’s not uncommon for it to take a week or so to an accurate assessment of the severity of the injury,” said Vander Byl. “Once I did a few tests, I became a little suspicious about an ACL injury. Dr. Steve Martin soon ordered an MRI and it confirmed that his ACL was gone.”
The 6-foot-3 guard was getting ready to watch practice when his phone rang with the breaking news.
“It wasn’t easy hearing the news, as I was supposed to be getting ready for my fifth and final season for the Vikes,” said Montgomery-Stinson. “I was pretty emotional. I needed a few moments to gather myself before heading out and telling my teammates the news.”
With the 2019-20 season wiped, he swiftly altered his academic path and registered for a co-op program in Nanaimo with the Ministry of Environment, extending his eligibility with the Vikes.
After going under the knife in early October, the co-op assignment allowed him to get away from the program for a little bit.
Up north, Montgomery-Stinson focused on water quality and environmental protection, along with his bodyweight, at-home rehab plan laid out by Vander Byl.
Working in Nanaimo, Montgomery-Stinson returned home on the weekends to watch his teammates in action. Living up Island gave him an opportunity to clear his head to focus on work, while still connecting with the team on the weekends.
The idea of a comeback began to grow.
“I quickly began motivated to return and finish my time with the Vikes. I knew of other Vikes (Isaac Koch, men’s soccer) that had recently gone through similar situations, so I knew the support was in place to pull off a comeback,” said Montgomery-Stinson. “There were certainly setbacks, but I tried to enjoy all the small victories, such as walking and getting more movement. Once January rolled around, I was able to lightly jog and I felt like an athlete again,” said Montgomery-Stinson.
Adding to his motivation was seeing his Vikes rip off their best regular season since his red shirt freshman campaign of 2014-15. It even included the men’s first playoff win inside the CARSA Performance Gym.
“I was really excited about our team. It was super tough to watch them, especially during playoffs. But we have a great group of guys with awesome personalities,” said Montgomery-Stinson. “We had a lot of guys returning this year – I think we would have made a run at another conference title.”
Back home this past summer, Montgomery-Stinson was ramping up his rehab following the onset of COVID. At-home weights, band work, agility drills and a running program were all possible even without access to CARSA.
“Taylor is diligent and has been grinding away in rehab for a long time. He was coming along nicely. I think he benefited from COVID at the beginning because the small groups, less intense practices were a great way to ease him back into the program,” said Beaucamp. “We’ve been having full contact practices for three weeks now and he looks great.”
Working out with the coaching staff in one-on-one sessions, Montgomery-Stinson felt his knee was coming along and thought he had a chance at participating in the annual Guy Vetrie Memorial Tournament in early October, but COVID put an end to that.
“It was great to be back in the gym. I loved being around the guys again – once we were allowed bigger groups,” said Montgomery-Stinson. “When they pushed the starting date of our season back from October to January, I thought the added preseason time would only be more beneficial.”
But once again, COVID had other plans.
“It was tough to hear that out season had officially been cancelled. We all sort of had a feeling about it, but I was trying my best to stay focused on getting my team and myself better each day. There is still a big opportunity out there for me to make an impact on our program during training and continue to build the culture that I’ve been around for the past six years,” said Montgomery-Stinson.
It was a long road to recovery for Montgomery-Stinson. No, he didn’t get another crack at winning the Vikes’ first conference title since his redshirt year, or enjoy senior night in front the community that saw him blossom into a basketball star. But instead, he furthered his education by taking it in a new direction, lived on his own for the first time, set goals, achieved those goals and bounced back from a significant injury, all while continuing to train and play the sport he loves.
Currently, the local product is holding out hope for exhibition games in the spring and donning the Blue and Gold one last time. He might not get a chance to hoist the Canada West banner this spring, but he is enjoying the comfort of being around the team and playing basketball again after going through the challenging mental and physical grind the past 19 months provided.