St. Michael's student athlete Anna Licht poses for a photo on the St. Michael's campus.
St. Michael’s student and UofT Varsity Blues athlete Anna Licht balances athletic achievement and academic performance.

Even by UofT’s challenging standards, Anna Licht is busy. The Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team captain turns up for practice five days a week throughout the long season, which stretches from October to mid-March. A three-time OUA East all-star, she is a top performer in weekend games against elite opponents. Add to this a full class schedule including complicated laboratory work in cell biology, and it becomes difficult to imagine how the 5th-year Health and Disease specialist, Environment and Health major, and Physiology minor manages it all – but she does.

Her secret? The same thing that makes her so well suited to the middle blocker position on the Blues team: finesse.

Volleyball, Licht says, “is so different from other sports. It’s not a full physical exertion; it’s more that super fine control while you’re fully exerting yourself.” Controlled power is the name of the game, and as a middle and a student studying medical science both, Licht has found it essential to her success both on and off the court.

Licht made the decision to come to UofT after being recruited by a Blues coach who refereed one of her high school games. Staying in Toronto kept her close to her parents and brothers, an important factor for a family that had moved internationally multiple times during her childhood before settling permanently in Toronto in 2006.

Student athlete Anna Licht blocks at the net during a match.
Licht, a team captain, finds the middle position to demand finesse and constant control. (Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.)

Once the choice to come to UofT was made, the decision to choose St. Michael’s naturally followed. Licht’s older brother Johann had played for the Blues men’s volleyball team while himself a student at St. Michael’s. An accomplished organist, he even plays the organ for the TV Mass program that was filmed on campus at St. Basil’s Collegiate Church while he was a student.

Licht decided to live in residence at St. Michael’s after hearing that many varsity athletes found a special community outside of practice and competition there. “The friendships I built that first year [in residence] are some of the strongest I have through university to this day,” she says, mentioning her first-year don in Sorbara Hall as someone who left an important impression on her. The balance of community at St. Mike’s and on the Varsity Blues team “was huge, and made my first year extremely enjoyable.”

It was also an exciting first year for her on the UofT squad: during the 2015-2016 season the Blues team won the first national title of its history. This year, the #1-ranked team in the OUA is hoping for a repeat, and after capitalizing on their top-seeded playoffs berth last weekend, the odds are good for a strong showing. Their postseason continues this Friday in an OUA Final Four match against the Western Mustangs.

Johann, Martin, Anna, and Benedikt Licht sit together in a locker room during a video.
While Licht followed her older brother Johann (left) to St. Michael’s, her younger brothers Benedikt (second from left) and Martin (right) also came to the University of Toronto. All four siblings play or have played for the Varsity Blues volleyball teams. Watch a Varsity Blues video about the Licht volleyball dynasty at UofT.

Through five years of hard work, Varsity Blues women’s volleyball Head Coach Kristine Drakich says, Licht “has grown into a wonderful leader on our team” who has a remarkable “ability to be fully invested in each moment and to really be focused on the task at hand.” This is the “super-fine control” Licht says the middle blocker position requires. Every moment against the net requires an almost virtuosic level of finesse and focus.

The postseason presents special challenges to athletes on Varsity Blues squads. If Licht’s team goes to the national tournament, for instance, it will require missing at least three days of class. “Getting on top of assignments ahead of time, planning ahead, and talking to faculties and profs” are all necessary for reducing postseason-related academic stress, she says. Thankfully, the Varsity Blues coaching staff and St. Michael’s Registrar’s Office alike provide ample support for students in Licht’s position.

Miranda Cheng, Assistant Registrar at St. Michael’s, finds Licht’s focus in spite of the pressure impressive. “Anna is a true student athlete!” she says. “She is taking a very demanding academic program along with her responsibilities as a varsity athlete. This speaks to her dedication.”

While her athletic career won’t end with the close of the Varsity Blues season – she will play for the Canadian national beach volleyball team after she graduates – Licht ultimately hopes to work in the healthcare field. Her current research project in the lab is on “fungal infections of epithelial cells.”

Student athlete Anna Licht sits at a table outside the Office of the Registrar at St. Michael's.
Licht has valued the help she’s received from the St. Michael’s Registrar’s Office to balance her academic and athletic commitments.

“What really solidifies learning is the hands-on and theoretical aspects” together, she says, describing the appeal of her lab work and also echoing a key theme of education at St. Mike’s. Like every part of her life, Licht holds the theoretical and practical elements in perfect balance, just as she balances her athletic achievements with her academic work. Over the past five years of her student life, the one change she’s noticed in herself is a growing confidence in what she can do.

As her coaches, professors, and peers would attest, that confidence is certainly justified.

The Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team will take the court in OUA Final Four competition against the Western Mustangs at the Goldring Centre Kimel Family Field House at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Fans can cheer on the Blues and catch updates in real time at the Varsity Blues Twitter account, and watch the match live at OUA TV.