Cross country misses out on gold at U Sports Championship

Women finish second, men fifth at national championships  

Claire Sumner (left) and Branna MacDougall (right) finished in second and third place respectively.

Going into last Sunday’s U Sports National Championships, the women’s cross country team knew they had a target on their back.

After spending the past seven weeks as the top ranked team in Canada, the Gaels were beat by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues at the championship in Victoria, B.C., placing second overall and a steep 19 points behind Toronto. The men’s team, meanwhile, finished in fifth.

“It’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow but that’s why you run the race — it’s not how good you are on paper,” cross country head coach Steve Boyd said. “It’s how you execute.”

Although they didn’t leave as national champions, the day didn’t come to an end without some stellar performances from a handful of Queen’s runners. 

In her final cross country race as a Gael, fifth-year Claire Sumner claimed the silver medal. Her teammate Branna MacDougall — who placed first in the OUA championships — finished in third. On the men’s side, fourth-year Eric Wynands was named a First Team All-Canadian with a seventh place finish.

“That was the one thing I thought we had for certain was the team title … it’s too bad we couldn’t do it this year,” Sumner — the 2016 individual national champion — said of the program’s performance.

Despite strong performances from Sumner and MacDougall, the Gaels’ supporting cast fell short. Molly Steer, Taylor Sills and Amy Stephenson — their final three scorers — finished 25, 30 and 32 respectively. The performance was a stark contrast to the women’s OUA championships two weeks ago, where they finished well ahead of Toronto and brought home a team gold medal. 

At the provincial championships in Windsor, Queen’s beat Toronto 62-37. In Victoria, the Varsity Blues got the better of the Gaels and won 92-73.

“They say winning OUAs and U Sports [in the same season] is extremely difficult to do … I guess it’s true,” Boyd said.

Albeit without a podium finish, the men’s team reached their pre-season goal of placing fifth in the country.

“The guys delivered,” Boyd said. He added the men’s goal this season was “top five at [U Sports] … [And] I think we got the best result we could’ve asked for.”

“As a team, we ran to our potential,” Wynands concurred. “I don’t think there were any gaps we could have filled but I’m happy with how we finished our season.”

With rain coming down consistently during the race, runners from across Canada faced off against the typical west coast weather. To make it more difficult, the course bottlenecked from large to small within the first hundred metres, making the athletes run in a tight path.

“I remember sprinting at the beginning, I was booking it,” Sumner said about the conditions. “I got myself right to the front — I was told to set the pace.”

In CoGro on Wednesday, Sumner reflected on her final race in a Queen’s singlet. Over her career at Queen’s, Sumner won the 2016 OUA and U Sports Championships and was also named 2016 OUA Athlete of the Year.

“That was my goal to medal … so at the end I just said, ‘I’m happy where I am now,’” she said.

“I felt strong the whole time so it was great for me.”

Following a fifth place performance at the OUA championships two weeks ago — a poor race by her standards — Sumner felt content with her finale.

“I was crossing the line knowing it was my last one and being very satisfied,” she added.

In spite of the weekend going less successful than hoped, Boyd reiterated he’s tremendously proud of his program and athletes. While he will lose a number of top runners to graduation, recent signings by the team give Boyd great comfort in the future of his esteemed program.

“Look at the big picture: we’re still one of the best male-female programs in the country. We’re right in that mix again and with the possibility of being one of the top programs in the country in the next couple of years,” Boyd said. 

“Things are looking good.”

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