Novakowski wins gold on home turf

Novakowski, Kitz, Schneeberg named OUA all-stars at championship

Braden Novakowski, left, and Robert Kitz, far right, slog through the mud during Saturday’s OUA final at Fort Henry Hill.
Braden Novakowski, left, and Robert Kitz, far right, slog through the mud during Saturday’s OUA final at Fort Henry Hill.
Jackie Alvarez

On a wet and windy Saturday afternoon at the OUA cross-country championships at Fort Henry Hill at RMC, the Queen’s men upset both the second and fourth nationally ranked teams en route to a third-place finish thanks mostly to a gold-medal performance by Braden Novakowski.

The women finished fourth overall, upsetting the seventh-ranked Windsor Lancers. Queen’s wasn’t seeded in the top ten in the CIS for men or women.

“We were the Rodney Dangerfields of cross country this year—we got no respect,” head coach Shane Lakins said.

The men and women ran the same 2.5 kilometre circuit but the men completed four laps and the women ran two.

Amy Schneeberg led the Queen’s women with a time of 19:52, finishing 10th. She was two minutes behind the winner Megan Brown from the University of Toronto.

“I had a personal goal of coming top ten, so I was working for it,” she said.

Victoria Swan was Queen’s second best runner with a time of 19:58. She placed just behind Schneeberg in 11th place.

Unlike many spectators, Schneeberg appreciated the weather and course conditions.

“I think that the conditions work well for me,” she said. “I like the mud, I wasn’t worried about falling. I had run it before.”

“She’s a mudder,” Lakins said, laughing. “She loves that stuff.”

“We had 18 millimetre [spikes] in our shoes, so it gave us some confidence—it gave me confidence anyway,” Schneeberg added.

The Gaels were within striking distance of the third place Western squad but were unable to earn a team medal. However, Schneeberg was happy with the Gaels’ effort.

“They’re a great group of girls. We all stepped up today,” she said. “Shane was yelling at me that we were in the running for top three so I knew the whole team was really working together to get our goal.”

“The women ran an absolutely fantastic race,” Lakins added.

The Queen’s men began their race shortly after the women and though the weather had eased up a little, the condition of the course had deteriorated significantly.

Queen’s team included two gold medal contenders in Braden Novakowski and Robert Kitz.

“The weather we had is what I enjoy,” Novakowski said. “It’s what I consider real cross-country.”

While the entire field barrelled down the course for the first leg of the race, four runners quickly separated themselves from the pack. Kitz and Novakowski were among them. The quartet led for most of the race but halfway into the third lap of the circuit, other runners caught up to the pack and Kitz began to fall behind.

“It just wasn’t in me. The legs weren’t there when I needed them to be,” Kitz said. “I couldn’t make it happen in the second half.”

“It was kind of bizarre,” Novakowski said of Kitz’s drop off. “We were running together, and then I checked behind me. All of a sudden, I was alone.”

At the beginning of the last lap, it looked as if Kitz would fall further behind, but he came on strong in the final leg and finished in eighth place with a time of 34:30.

Two weeks ago Kitz posted a time of 32:59 on the same course at the Queen’s Open.

“I was a little disappointed with my run but Braden had an amazing run so it all balances out there from a team perspective,” he said. “It just wasn’t my day.”

Novakowski led for much of the race and, by the last lap, had widened the gap between himself and his nearest competitor. With one kilometre left, the second place runner pushed hard to close the gap and overtake him, but was unable to make a serious challenge.

“When he was gaining on me, I was losing mental strength, so to speak,” Novakowski said. “At that point, having the hometown crowd really helped.”

Novakowski finished with a time of 33:50, five seconds faster than the silver medalist.

The awards ceremony was held at Ban Righ Hall that night, where Schneeberg, Novakowski and Kitz were all named as OUA all-stars.

“It’s quite an honour, especially on home field,” Novakowski said of his first OUA all-star selection.

“These guys have been the top of the group all year. They inspire the rest of the team, and the rest of the team inspires them,” coach Lankins said. “This was a good team just waiting for an opportunity to shine, and what better place than home field.”

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