Men's & women's cross country boasting new-look teams

Gaels set to take place in upper echelon of U Sports as they prepare to host national championships in November

The Gaels will have the benefit of home-course advantage at the U Sports Championships for the next two years.
The Gaels will have the benefit of home-course advantage at the U Sports Championships for the next two years.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

In times of athlete turnover, most teams suffer from one to two-year lulls in performance. But this year’s men’s and women’s cross country teams are hoping to buck that trend. 

When the men finished fifth and women secured second at last year’s U Sports National Championships, the Gaels were looking at their strongest teams in years. 

Going into this season, both teams have said goodbye to a group of veterans and brought in a slew of extremely talented young runners.

With the program holding home-course advantage at this year’s rendition of the championships, head coach Steve Boyd believes anything is possible for these two teams.

Women’s cross country

After last year’s second place finish at nationals, Boyd took a step back.

“I think we got a bit ahead of ourselves talking about the big picture rather than focusing on the day-to-day process,” Boyd told The Journal ahead of this weekend’s Queen’s Invitational, which will take place on Saturday at Fort Henry.

The team will take a more measured approach this fall, he added. With departures of U Sports 2017 Gold and 2018 Silver medalist Claire Sumner, as well as Amy Stephenson, Molly Steer, Shannen Murray and Claudia Belanger, the Gaels are looking at an entirely new team

“We have the horsepower,” Boyd said, noting his team’s abilities. “But when we’re dealing with rookie athletes and some second-year athletes, it’s a little less secure.”

Much of the excitement surrounding the Gaels this year will come with the debut of Brogan MacDougall, one of Canada’s most sought-after cross country recruits in recent memory. Perhaps equally notable, she’s the sister of co-Gael and 2018 OUA Champion, Branna MacDougall.

Considering his team’s youth, Boyd believes the women’s team ranks third in the country behind the University of Toronto and Laval. 

Despite this, he’s not ruling overlooking their ability to overtake these two teams—it may just take some experienced running on the Gaels’ part.

“On paper, we look like we could do it,” Boyd said.

Men’s cross country

In many ways, the men’s team’s situation mirrors the women’s.

This year, the Gaels will be short of 2017 fourth-place OUA finisher Eric Wynands, 2015 OUA champion Alex Wilkie and veteran Rob Kanko. Again, in spite of the losses, Boyd said the men are expected to uphold their fifth-place position in the U Sports rankings and maybe even move up a spot.

“We’re pleasantly surprised by the group of guys we have this year,” Boyd said, noting his team are without rookie recruits this season.

This year’s core will consist of Brett Crowley, who’s in his second year of eligibility and has “taken a step forward,” as well as Mitch de Lange, who will be using his first year of eligibility after sustaining an ankle injury early last year. 

“It’s been a 180 turnaround for him,” Boyd said of de Lange. “He’s leading the team in workouts right now.”

Last year, the Gaels finished close behind the McMaster Marauders in both the OUA and national championships. Boyd said that while it’s a big hurdle to jump, the team is currently aiming to overtake the Marauder’s top position.

“[I] think they might be able to move up one notch in the OUA’s,” Boyd said. “It’s looking more realistic.”

Though he’s not setting concrete expectations on the team quite yet, Boyd is a firm believer that this team could pull together a special season.

“We’re cautiously excited about this group.”

 

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