Cross country places tenth at nationals

Gaels face poor weather and tough competition at the CIS championships at the Plains of Abraham

The Queen’s cross country team’s last two races of the season had some historical undertones. The OUA championships were hosted by Queen’s at Fort Henry and the CIS championships followed at Laval on The Plains of Abraham. But at the championship race it was the Guelph Gryphons who prevailed in both the women’s five-kilometre and the men’s 10-kilometre races. The Queen’s women placed 10th at the CIS championships while the men didn’t enter a full team.

Head coach Shane Lakins said the CIS race had less than ideal weather and the Laval course’s uneven terrain made for a challenging run

“We’ve had two crappy days this fall; one was on OUs, one was on CIs,” he said. “But that’s cross country. You get what you get.”

The men’s team placed sixth in the OUA championships which Lakins said was a spot shy of their own criteria. He said he felt it wasn’t the best idea to enter the full team into the CIS championships. But they did send two runners to Quebec to represent Queen’s, partially because the Gaels will be hosting the 2009 CIS Championships.

Lakins said bringing Trevor Walmsley, who placed 73rd, and Josh Potvin, who placed 79th, was a calculated decision to give them experience for next year.

“Since we are hosting the CIs next year, it was good to bring some veterans,” he said.

Lakins said the men’s team is young and will use the experience gained this year, as well as the return of Matt Hulse from a teaching placement, to present a stronger team next year.

“A lot of young guys got some experience and I think it’s going to bode well next year,” he said. “The men’s team will definitely be a little older and a little wiser.”

The women’s team also placed sixth at the OUAs, but Lakins said he didn’t adhere to the top five criteria in their case because that race wasn’t indicative of their strength and the OUA is a powerful conference nationally in cross country.

“The power is definitely in the OUA,” he said. “We’re in the mix of a very strong conference.”

Seven of the top 10 women’s teams at the nationals were from Ontario, with the Gaels bringing up the rear at tenth, five points behind the St. Francis Xavier X-Women. Lakins said the top 10 teams were separated by small point margins, leaving them a few spots shy of a much stronger team finish.

“We were one or two really good races away from getting sixth or seventh,” he said. “I think we all wanted to place a bit higher.” Lakins predicted a top five national finish from the women during an earlier interview with the Journal. He said it was a sound bet considering the team’s history, but it didn’t account for the strong development of other teams.

“Given our past history, I would say, ‘Yeah, we’re a medal-contending team,’” he said. “Everyone in the conference got better with them.”

Lakins said the women didn’t get strong performances from their top runners, but their support crew did well. Strong finishes from Grace Keenleyside (44th), Nadia Tatlow (54th) and Elizabeth Miller (56th) helped balance out less-than-average runs from star runners Leslie Sexton and Leah Larocque, who placed 25th and 79th respectively. Sexton finished fifth at last year’s nationals, and Larocque placed twelth at this year’s OUA championships and was named an OUA second-team all-star.

Sexton was still nursing a foot injury sustained earlier in the season, which Lakins said kept her from achieving what she’s capable of.

“On her best day she’s in the top seven, not the top 27,” he said.

Lakins said the absence of those strong performances is characteristic of cross country. He said that you can’t hide anyone on a bench, especially at events like CIS where every runner needs to be at the top of his or her game.

“If you’re having a rough day, you got to suck it up and keep rolling.”

The team now looks to preparing for the transition onto an indoor track for the indoor season in January. Lakins said there won’t be anyone leaving the team, so he`ll have an older and more experienced squad next season.

Sexton, whose 25th-place finish was the Gaels’ best performance, said she’s graduating this year but may return next year as a grad student.

“It’s still a possibility,” she said. “Nothing’s set in stone at the moment.” Sexton said that she was slightly disappointed with her placement because of the high hopes she had following her strong fifth-place finish last year.

“It was a bit of a disappointment considering I was fifth last year,” she said. “It was the best I could do on the day.”

Sexton said her injury was at the point where she’s not in constant pain, but it still swells with physical activity.

She said bad races are a part of the sport.

“The reality is you’re going to have a few good races, one or two great races, and one not so great race,” she said. “It’s unfortunate when that one not-so-great race happens at the championships.”

Sexton said the full year of training will benefit the team’s young athletes next year.

“With the consistency of training year after year you’re going to see some improvements,” she said. “The key now is working on increasing our mileage and keeping the consistency of training over the summer months.”

If Sexton isn’t around to be on the team next year, she said she’s happy with what she’s done during her cross country career at Queen’s.

“I have to be proud of my accomplishments.”

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