Kingston and Trinidad and Tobago have two very different climates, especially in February. It’s something a faction of the women’s cross country team now knows all too well.
On Feb. 16, first-years Makenna Fitzgerald and Brogan MacDougall, along with Queen’s Assistant Coach Brant Stachel, helped Canada sweep the podium at the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Cross Country Championships. Fitzgerald placed third while MacDougall withdrew after coming down with the flu.
“It was super nice to get out of the snow,” Stachel, who served on Canada’s coaching staff at the championships, told The Journal. Leaving Kingston, which was well below freezing at the time of the group’s departure, Stachel and his team were welcomed by over 30 degree weather.
While the race had numerous world-class athletes competing, Stachel said it was a tune-up for the World Junior Cross Country Championships on Mar. 30 in Denmark.
“Overall, it was a cool experience for the athletes to get that international travel experience before World Juniors,” Stachel said. “For our crew here, [World Championships are] an ‘A-goal,’ whereas [NACAC] was a ‘B-goal’ to make sure they can handle international travel.”
For Fitzgerald, who’s only been running competitively since the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, it was her first time racing abroad. Behind teammates Taryn O’Neill and Charlotte Wood, she finished six seconds off
first place despite falling mid-race—her time was 22:14 in the six kilometre race.
“Her poise was definitely way beyond her developmental years in the sport,” Stachel said. “It’s super fun to watch her elevate to that level.”
An experienced coach—Stachel headed last year’s FISU team in Switzerland and was recently named
Athletics Ontario’s coaching coordinator—he knows the common thought processes for a runner competing on international grounds for the first time.
“Every time you get a young athlete who’s new to the sport and representing Canada for the first time, there’s always those nerves,” he said. “They’re wondering, ‘Do I belong, am I at the level everyone else is at?’ And [Fitzgerald] handled it like a true champ and a veteran.”
Canada’s men’s team also finished first at the championships, sweeping the top three spots in the 8km under-20 race, although none of its racers hailed from Queen’s.
Alongside the under-20 races, Canada’s senior women’s team represented the country at NACAC, finishing second overall with Queen’s alumni Claire Sumner placing 13th. The six-woman team included Olympians Natasha Wodak, Genevieve Lalonde, and Katelyn Ayers.
Stachel said their presence was a unique opportunity for the country’s younger runners to interact with high-profile veterans.
“All the junior women could talk to them and really ask them questions to see how they operate,” Stachel said. “From a learning perspective, it was really cool to see what three Olympians do to prepare for the same race that you raced.”
Fitzgerald and MacDougall are in the latter stages of their training, with the World Junior Championships four weeks away. The Championships, which featured over 100 athletes from across the globe in 2017, will see similar numbers when they take the start line in Aarhus, Denmark later this month.
“[NACAC] is a good precursor to worlds when there’s way more people on the [start] line and you’re trying to look for some familiarity as you get into the race,” Stachel said.
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