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Athletes of the Year Reflect on Sports, Faith and Life after Graduation
2015-04-02

Photo: Lauren Toews and Eric Johnson  

Graduation is scary.

As much as the banquets and ceremonies mark the end of a significant, and typically successful, period of scholarship, they also represent the start of something new—something, while anticipated, that can be daunting and certainly less predictable than the routine and community of campus life.

“For four years this is your place,” says Lauren Toews, who is set to graduate from Providence University College with an advanced major in Business Administration and minor in Communications & Media. “You go away for the summer and it’s comforting knowing September will be the same September as before.”

This September will be different.

Toews, 21, will shortly move to Fort McMurray, Alberta, where she has spent her last two summers. She’s interested in community development and would like to work with the new families settling in the region.

  “I feel that Providence has been part of my identity,” she says. “It’s going to be interesting to see who I am outside it.”

Eric Johnson, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts this month, is similarly curious about the transition from university to what comes next.  

“I’m not necessarily scared to graduate, but I’m scared to start life,” he admits. “It’s a huge step. It’s going to be weird. But I’m ready to take on the challenge.”  

Johnson has been meeting challenges head-on since arriving at Providence in 2012, when his successful try-out (he drove to Otterburne from International Falls, Minnesota, where he had been attending Rainy River Community College) earned him a spot on the men’s basketball team.  

A difficult first year, in which he says the team was “at its worst,” was followed by a second that saw him omitted from the squad for academic reasons. Alumni games and practicing on his own represented the extent of his time on the court.  

“My second year was pretty heartbreaking,” he says.  

But he bounced back. Big-time.  

Johnson averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds per game in 2014-15 and, for his efforts, was named Providence Male Athlete of the Year. He also claimed Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference (MCAC) All-Conference honours and earned All-Region Honourable Mention from the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).  

“Eric was the heart and soul of our team,” says men’s basketball coach Colten Gryba. “In his final year at Providence he overcame his struggles and will be finishing off with great grades. He also made great strides in his relationship with God.”  

In fact, Johnson became a Christian during his first year in Otterburne.  

He credits his wife, Rachel (they were married in September 2014), with allowing him the time and space to start his spiritual journey, but he also says the atmosphere at Providence was conducive to nurturing a new believer.  

“One thing they’re really good about is not pushing students to do anything they don’t want to do,” he says. “I appreciate them letting me make my own choice. That way I know it was for personal reasons and love for Jesus Christ.”  

He adds: “I came here for basketball and I got much, much more.”  

Toews—the Female Athlete of the Year—will also take more away from her time at Providence than success on the volleyball court.  

And there was a lot of it.  

Unbeaten at home the entire season, the women’s team won the NCCAA Regional Tournament in October before embarking on an 11-match winning streak that culminated with a straight-sets victory at Red River College.  

It was that match, says Toews, in which she and her teammates took their enjoyment of volleyball to another level.  

“Knowing that we were giving it all for each other was the highlight,” she says. “It was a cool dynamic.”  

Like Johnson, Toews became a Christian at Providence and pinpoints other athletes’ testimonies as difference-makers in the process. From there, she says, a very intentional player-coach relationship, the effectiveness of chapel time and the warmth of faculty and staff helped her in the early days of her walk with Christ.  

“They don’t put walls around you,” she says of the Providence personnel. “Sometimes I think certain institutions give you the box you’re going to be in, but I’ve been able to go at my own pace.”  

Women’s volleyball coach Scott Masterson is “proud” of Toews’ development and how she represents Providence on and off the court.  

“Lauren has matured as a person, grown in her faith, grown in her leadership abilities and developed her volleyball skills,” he says. “She has grown so much, and in so many ways, over the four years that she has been a student-athlete here.”  

Toews believes Providence will end up being among the “biggest impacts” on her life.  

“I’ve met so many mentors,” she says. “I don’t think anything can compare to this experience.”  

Johnson concurs.  

“Providence was life-altering,” he says. “I’ll always appreciate what it did for me.”

 
 
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