After three consecutive years of U SPORTS silver medal finishes, the Queen’s women’s cross-country team finally prevailed as national gold medalists for the first time in school history.
The shot sounded at 1 p.m. to kick off the beginning of the women’s U SPORTS cross-country championship race at Kingston’s Fort Henry on Nov. 9. Light snowfall taunted the athletes in warmup but cleared just before the race began. Strong, piercing winds proved an obstacle for the racers, but weren’t enough to slow down the fiery Gaels.
Senior Branna MacDougall (28:01.0) found herself easily breaking off from the pack early in the race, battling with fellow podium finishers Lucia Stafford (U of T) and Laval’s Anne-Marie Comeau for the majority of the race.
However, it was Stafford’s (27:30.3) strategic race that clinched gold, as she used the bodies of MacDougall and Comeau (27:44.2) to block the intensity of the wind, affording her enough energy to eventually pass the two and win in a sprint to the finish.
Comeau proved to have just a few more pushes than MacDougall, passing her near the finish to take the silver.
After Branna came Kara Blair (28:17.3) in fourth, and then sophomore Brogan MacDougall (28:19.6) hot on her heels in sixth. Then came Marley Beckett (29:08.3) in 16th and Tori Bouck (29:29.7) in 24th. With 53 points, the Gaels finally secured their place at the top of the podium.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to forget the moment I turned around and saw Brogan and Kara come in,” MacDougall told The Journal. “I was waiting for our next person to come in and I saw Marley […] and I just start screaming […] It’s unbelievable.”
Branna’s bronze medal can be characterized by nothing if not perseverance. Recovering from an injury throughout last season, MacDougall found herself finishing in an unfamiliar ninth place at last year’s nationals.
This year, with health and a wealth of experience on her side, she propelled herself back onto the podium.
When asked about her sister Brogan, Branna said, “It’s amazing to have her. There is no one I would rather want to do this with.”
Brogan, the 2018 U SPORTS individual gold medalist, couldn’t follow up on last year’s feat but still had an extremely solid finish considering that she, herself is recovering from an earlier injury.
The breakout star of the race, fourth year Kara Blair, launched herself to a place she never believed she could go. Blair finished 45th in the 2018 U SPORTS championship, and this year she made it her personal goal to be in the top 14.
Blair claims that her Head Coach Steve Boyd called her goal “conservative” as her training and improvement over the past year was well beyond what Blair was giving herself credit for. Blair stunned everyone with an incredible fourth place finish, moments behind teammate Branna.
“I pushed through, and then I was on my own […] I was like, we’re not even 3K in, why am I already on my own?” Blair joked as she recounted the moment she felt herself break away from the rest of the pack.
“It’s just a massive relief, I’m so proud of the girls,” Head Coach Steve Boyd said moments after Queen’s was announced as the gold medal winners.
“Particularly our four and five. One’s a rookie [Victoria Bouck], the other [Marley Beckett] has very little championship experience […] they just nailed it, there’s not much more to say. They nailed it on the home course.”
Bouck foreshadowed her own crucial performance in an earlier interview with The Journal, stating, “I think that’s one of the great parts of cross-country, being part of a team. You’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for everyone on the team.” This collaborative mindset is what pushed the Gaels over the top.
Both Branna and Brogan MacDougall and Kara Blair were honoured by U SPORTS with the title of First Team All-Canadians. Head Coach Steve Boyd was awarded the U SPORTS Fox 40 Coach of the Year for the women.
The wind remained numbing as the men set off for their U SPORTS championship race at 2 p.m.
As opposed to the women, the men were led by a large pack of racers, making it anybody’s race until the very last sprint.
The torn-up ground left behind by the women’s race saw muddier conditions, resulting in multiple racers slipping around corners and tripping over fellow competitors in the tight packs.
Third year Mitchell de Lange (31:09.8) held extremely strong at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, fluctuating between the top three spots throughout.
However, a podium finish wasn’t in the cards for de Lange. The final sprint proved to be his biggest challenge, and he fell to a 10th-place finish.
Even so, de Lange’s incredible top 10 national finish edged the Gaels to a solid 7th overall finish and earned him a place on the U SPORTS Second Team All-Canadians.
Rob Kanko (31:23.4) came in fifteenth, and he was followed by Nathan Dehghan (32:20.9) and Mitchell Kirby (32:26.2) in 42nd and 46th, respectively. Queen’s scorers were rounded out by Mathew Pardo (32:53.4) in 65th.
The University of British Columbia’s Kieran Lumb (30:41.8) took home the individual gold, while the University of Calgary got a repeat as the U SPORTS overall men’s team gold medalists to close out the competition in Kingston.
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