Historic weekend for cross country

Women’s team ends Guelph’s 13-year reign at top, men finish with bronze

Women’s cross country won their first provincial title since 2003.
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Queen’s rushed in the dawn of a new era in women’s cross country on Saturday.

Led by gold medalist Branna MacDougall, the Gaels officially ended Guelph’s 13-year reign as OUA champions — winning Queen’s first provincial title since 2003 in Windsor last weekend. 

In a statement win, the Gaels finished ahead of the second-place University of Toronto Varsity Blues by 25 points. It was also a strong weekend for the men, who finished with a bronze medal.

“It was a very good day, but I think we can do even better,” head coach Steve Boyd said on both team’s performances. 

Fifth-year Claire Sumner echoed similar sentiments on the race, with a clear goal of progress as the team prepares for the upcoming U Sports National Championship on Nov. 11. 

“We brought home the gold and that’s what we wanted,” she said. “[H]opefully we’re going forward to [Nationals] and competing for gold.”

Following MacDougall’s championship performance, Gaels Amy Stephenson and Sumner followed shortly behind in fourth and fifth place respectively. 

“I think I ran pretty well,” MacDougall, who’s in her first season with the Gaels after transferring from Iowa State University, said. “I had a lot of fun with the race and I think that helped me run really well.”

MacDougall noted the pace early on in the race was slower than she expected. Many of the expected frontrunners — such as U of T’s Sasha Gollish — had a slow start, confusing herself and her teammates. 

“I normally like [races] with steady pressure the whole way so it was different from any other cross country race I’ve ever ran … we were all waiting around for [Gollish] to make a move,” MacDougall said. “It was kind of weird, but when I decided to go, it was getting to a point in the race where I wasn’t comfortable having that many people around me.”

The race was less successful for Sumner — who placed fifth — after winning last year. 

“It wasn’t the race I wanted … I went into the weekend not trying to put the pressure on because it was going to be a hard year to follow,” Sumner said. “I didn’t race tactically smart … but it was a good learning experience for me.”

The most shocking result of the day, however, was tenth-place finisher Molly Steer. 

After being a member of the team in the 2015-16 season, Steer was cut last year after failing to meet their baseline performance standard. Back after a summer of training in Kingston, she impressed her coaches with her determination and was brought back to the team in September.

After seeing Steer in the top 15 at the halfway point in the race, Boyd was stunned. “I [couldn’t] believe it,” Boyd said.

Steer’s performance proved key to the Gaels’ winning overall gold, as veteran Shannen Murray fell ill in the week prior and was unable to finish the race. 

Boyd added Steer’s performance gave him a great sense of pride.

“The best teams do that,” Boyd said, alluding to the team’s embracement of a ‘next-player-up’ mentality. “They have people that come out of nowhere out of their back-end and run well when someone else doesn’t … it just shows you where [the team] is at.”

The men’s team, who finished in third place behind McMaster and Guelph, were only content with their race. “We came up a little short of where we should’ve been going in,” Boyd said.

Despite an impressive outing from fourth-year Eric Wynands — who placed third — the Gaels’ supporting act was unable to create the same magic as the women’s team.

Alex Wilkie, still recovering from hip surgery, came out quickly but fell back from the eighth spot to finish in 27th. Rob Kanko, expected to be the closest follower to Wynands, finished in 22nd.

With Saturday now in their rear-view mirror, the men and women turn their focus to the national championships, which take place in Victoria, BC in just over a week.

“We’re all feeling confident as a team,” Sumner said in regards to the coming race. “[T]here are a few of us that want to improve on OUAs, but as a team, as long as we can stay healthy, we should be able to come out with that gold [medal].”

 

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