Cross-country cracks McGill course

Men’s team third and women sixth in strong outing

The Gaels’ men’s and women’s cross country teams exceeded expectations this past weekend with solid performances on a hilly McGill course to kick off the season. The men finished third, behind rival Western and NCAA Division 3 titan Williams College, while the women finished a strong sixth.

The men’s team featured a number of dominant individual performances backed by a very good supporting cast. Rookie and former national team member Braden Novakowski ran as well as expected, finishing second, only two seconds ahead of last year’s Gael MVP Spencer Morrison.

Josh Smith, who was the rookie of the year for the Gaels last season, finished fourteenth, just ahead of rookies Jared Thompson and Darryl Blackport. Sophomore Travis Cummings, newcomer Jeff Barr, and the vastly improved Chris Hartman all turned in strong performances to round out a great team effort.

“This is a very young but incredibly talented group,” head coach Shane Lakins told the Journal.

Lakins also pointed out that, according to past times on the McGill course, this year’s edition of the team is comparable to the 1996 men’s team that placed second in Canada. Looking at Spencer Morrison’s last result in Montreal should also fill fans of the team with delight—he was 65th in 2001, but improved by two minutes and 47 seconds to achieve this year’s stellar third-place finish.

Having two team members on the podium is a remarkable achievement, particularly on the difficult Montreal course. Stretching six kilometres instead of the usual 10, it runs up and down Mount Royal, a big change for cross-country runners.

“It’s really up and down,” said Margaret Cummings, co-captain of the women’s team. “We usually run areas more like golf courses.” The women’s team, which graduated seven of nine members from last year’s OUA Championship-winning squad, finished with a solid sixth place showing. Their top runner was Ali Aasen, who caught up to the Cummings twins, co-captains and veterans Vera and Margaret, in the second half of the race. The trio finished 29th, 31st and 32nd respectively.

“[Aasen] trained really hard this summer,” said Margaret Cummings. “She really pushed us in the second half of the race.”

Strong finishes by veterans Julie Wood, Kim Hall, Jenny Harris, Megan Lord and Jennifer Young, and good performances by top rookies Lauren Clarke and Colleen Hammond bolstered the team, leaving team members with a positive outlook for this team.

“We’re all quite of equal talent, and we’ve got lots of depth,” Cummings said.

She called Julie Wood the team’s best runner, and pointed to ex-soccer-player rookies like Clarke as newcomers to watch.

“The women were the focus last year, and this year it’s the guys’ team, but we still hope to do better than a transition year,” Cummings said. “We hope to make it to the CIS competition again, so we’ll have to be in the top five at the OUA Championships.”

According to the recently-released CIS rankings, the men are ranked sixth in the country and the women tenth. Great things are clearly in store for both.

“I think both teams will run better as the season progresses,” Lakins said. “McGill was a good opportunity to run a shorter distance and get back into racing mode.” The teams are currently preparing for their next meet—the international tilt hosted this weekend by Western. It should be another good test of the team’s mettle as they will be competing against all the teams in the OUA, as well as several strong American entries.

“This meet should be a very good indicator of where we are in relation to the rest of the OUA teams,” Lakins said.

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