Cross country is off to a hot start

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Last year set the expectations high for Queen’s cross country program. After outstanding races in London, Ontario and Pennsylvania, they might be even higher.

Following last year’s strong season, the women’s cross-country team won the OUA Championship and then earned their third consecutive silver medal at the U SPORTS Championship. The men’s team followed suit with their hard-fought silver medal at the OUA Championships, in addition to placing fifth at nationals. 

Head Coach Steve Boyd is entering his tenth season at the helm of Queen’s Cross Country, and he’s cultivated his team’s continuous improvement the entire time. When he inherited the program in 2010, the teams could not come close to challenging for the national banner.

As of right now, the women are ranked first in the country, and the men are ranked sixth. These rankings have been consistent for the past three years. This year, the team is missing beloved assistant coach Brant Stachel, who accepted a bigger role at UBC. He’s been replaced by Steve Weiler.

 “Queen’s Cross Country is looking to go one better on its 2018 success,” Boyd said in an interview with The Journal. “[We want to add] a men’s OUA title and a women’s U Sports title to [our] list of accolades.”

Women’s Cross Country 

The women’s team began the season at the top of the national rankings, and they haven’t had to look up much yet.

They’ve been able to keep a grip on their ranking with their early season success. In September, they came in second at a meet in London, Ontario, without their best runners taking part.

Then last weekend, the women won an NCAA Division 1 race, the Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, beating out numerous highly-regarded American programs. The Gaels had finished seventh last year.

The MacDougall sisters continue to impress. According to Boyd, Branna and Brogan are favoured to win at OUAs and at Nationals on an individual basis. They finished fifth and sixth respectively at the Paul Short Run.

Branna MacDougall is known for being a two-time All-Canadian and 2018 OUA individual silver medalist. Her younger sister, Brogan MacDougall, burst onto the cross country scene and earned MVP honours both provincially and nationally last year.

They’re accompanied by stellar teammates like Makenna Fitzgerald, who was a second team All-Canadian in 2018. There’s also Kara Blair, who has impressed early in the season with her second-place finish at the London race. Last year, she was an OUA All-Star. 

Men’s Cross Country 

Similar to the women’s team, the men’s team has started their season with a sturdy base.

The men are currently ranked sixth nationally, an improvement on their season-opening ranking of seventh. Ranking behind their main OUA rivals at McMaster and Guelph, the team strives to surpass the competition and exceed last season’s accomplishments. 

“The men are led by first team all-OUA performers Mitchell de Lange and Mitchell Kirby,” Boyd said. He also cited second team OUA All-Star Matt Flood’s contributions as crucial to the team’s progression.

However, it’s been Nathan Dehghan and veteran captain Robert Kanko who have been finishing the fastest for the Gaels through their first two races. The Gaels well-roundedness is important in a sport that takes into consideration the top five finishers when calculating the team score.

The men finished in seventh at London without the aid of de Lange and Kirby, and in 16th in Pennsylvania in their first year racing in the more difficult Gold Division.

The Gaels will travel to Montreal this week to compete at the Quebec/AUS Interlock meet in Montreal. The women will be facing off against Laval, who is currently tied with Queen’s at the top of the national rankings, for the first time this season.

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