Every year, running the hills of Fort Henry signifies the start of the cross country season and often sets the tone of what’s to come for the season ahead. On Saturday, the men’s and women’s cross country teams started their season off on the right foot with strong performances across the board.
In a field mostly comprised of Guelph and Queen’s athletes, it was the Gaels who prevailed as the overall winners in the women’s category while the Gryphons ran away with first place in the men’s category.
Claire Sumner kicked her season off right where she started, winning the women’s race by a dominant 22 seconds. The 2016 U Sports Cross Country champion finished the eight-kilometre race with a time of 28:45 minutes.
“It was good … we kind of just went in with a mindset of doing a workout,” Sumner said. “Guelph was here and they’re our biggest rivals, so I think we just hung on to them but we were mainly just doing our own thing.”
For the first five kilometres it appeared Sumner was in a battle with Hannah Woodhouse of Guelph, but with the final three kilometres to go, the gap between the two runners seemed to widen with every stride.
“I think I did pick it up unintentionally and I know this course so well so I was feeling good,” she said.
In addition to Sumner’s performance, Amy Stephenson finished in third place for the Gaels. Following a transfer from Western to Queen’s, Saturday marked her first race sporting the tricolour. Stephenson’s calm and steady demeanor throughout the race proved that she will be a force to be reckoned with in the OUA.
“It was a great first race … I’m happy to start things off on a good note and hopefully the rest of the season will continue in an upward trend,” Stephenson said.
Meanwhile, the men finished the day with a group of strong performances. Led by Brett Crowley — who finished in fifth — teammates Mitchel Kirby, Matt Flood, Robert Kanko and Eric Wynands closed off the top 10 in sixth, eighth, ninth and tenth spots respectively.
First-year and Kingston native Flood was pleased with the team’s overall performance.
“Today was a good start and I think we all feel confident about the way this season is going after today,” he said.
The men’s team finished fifth at the OUA championships last year, however it’s clear that with some new additions to the team, men’s cross country has the chance to pull together a strong season. After splitting the top 10 spots with the powerhouse Guelph team – who have reigned as OUA champions for 11 of the past 12 years — the Gaels are hoping this weekend proved that they have what it takes to become one of the top running teams in the OUA.
Combining the rolling hills of Fort Henry with a high of 23-degrees Celsius on Sunday, the conditions were particularly difficult during the races. As the runners began to pour over the finish line, coaches carried their players to their seats, displaying the raw difficulty of the course.
“Going up that last hill, because it blocked the wind, I was just melting,” Stephenson said. The team now has a set of invitationals lined up as preparation for the OUA championships, which take place on October 28 in Windsor. Next weekend they will travel to London for the Western Invitational.
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