Going into this weekend’s U Sports National Championships, cross country head coach Steve Boyd said it’s no secret: they can win everything.
“If anybody beats us, more power to them because we have a really good team,” he said of his women’s squad. Of his men’s side, he added: “If all the stars align, we could steal things.”
With the women’s team coming off a first-place team finish at the OUA Championships two weeks ago and the men running to a surprise silver medal, the Gaels are set to host the national championships on home soil this Saturday at Fort Henry. It’s the first time Queen’s has hosted the championships since 2009, but the opportunity is higher than it’s ever been.
Despite the women’s team experiencing significant turnover after losing veterans Claire Sumner, Shannen McMurray, Claudia Belanger, Molly Steer, and Amy Stephenson last season, the Gaels are overwhelming favourites heading into the race.
First-year and OUA MVP Brogan MacDougall will make her U Sports debut, alongside her sister, third-year sister Branna, where they’ll both be looking to individually land on the podium.
“We’re going to take the individual title, I think Brogan’s going to win,” Boyd said at a pre-race press conference on Wednesday. “It’s going to be hard for anyone to knock us off.”
Returning for Queen’s on Saturday will be fifth-year Taylor Sills, who missed the provincial championships due to personal commitments. She’s arguably Queen’s third or fourth-best runner with rookie Makenna Fitzgerald, who finished fourth at the OUA Championships. Among them are rookies Kara Blair and Laura Yantha, who finished seventh and 20th respectively at the race.
If the women win on Saturday, it’ll be their first U Sports banner in program history. After two consecutive years of silver medal finishes, Boyd’s confident the third time’s the charm.
“We won’t count our chickens until they’re hatched but … I feel better about this group than any other group we’ve had,” he said.
Meanwhile, the men’s team is coming off a surprise silver medal finish at OUA’s, where they beat the previously nationally-ranked first Guelph Gryphons and fell just behind McMaster.
Throughout the season, Boyd touted his men’s squad as the deepest he’s seen since he took up the head coaching job in 2010.
“These guys are dark horses, they’re underdogs—they’ve been underrated the whole year,” he said.
Led by second-year Mitch De Lange, Boyd hopes he can land one athlete in the top 10 with the rest of their team spread each approximately 20 seconds behind.
“We could have a super tight pack,” he said. “That’s what’s really exciting for us.”
A home course will also serve as an advantage for the Gaels. The Fort Henry Hills, which has hosted all of Canada’s major cross country championships with the exception of OFSAA, is a deceivingly difficult course—the first 600 metres has a net 30 metres of incline despite it’s flat appearance. It’s where Queen’s has trained all season, from easy runs to workouts.
“I don’t think there’s a rock or blade of grass they don’t know,” Boyd said. “They know how they’re supposed to feel at every section of the course.”
On Saturday, the women will run at 1 p.m. and the men will race at 2 p.m.
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