For the first time since 2006, the record-setting Guelph Gryphons enter the CIS Cross Country Championship without both the men’s and women’s title to their name. The Gryphons, who won only the women’s title last year at home, will be looking to win back a pair of team banners on Saturday on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, after conceding the men’s championship to Victoria. Laval, which is hosting the national race for the first time since 2011 and fourth time in the last decade, overtook the men’s No.1 ranking from Guelph the entire campaign, the first time the Gryphons men hadn’t been ranked on top of the country since Oct. 27, 2009.
The Rouge et or will be challenged by the reigning champion Vikes, who head into the national meet after steadily climbing to the No.2 ranking in the final poll of the season with a win at the B.C. Provincial Championships two weeks ago. A total of 190 athletes from 33 schools are set to compete at 1:00 p.m. in the women’s six-kilometre race (up from 167 a year ago), while 193 runners from 32 institutions are scheduled to be at the starting line at 1:40 p.m. for the 10 km men’s event (up from 178). The races will be streamed live on SportsCanada.tv.
To say that Guelph has dominated CIS cross country for the past decade would be a major understatement. The Gryphons have claimed the team banners nine of the last 10 seasons and are riding a 11-year championship streak in women’s action.
In individual competition, Guelph athletes have captured seven of the last eight men’s gold medals and three of the last five women’s titles. However, this year’s OUA championship held two weeks ago also signaled a changing of the guard. While the Gryphons earned their 13th straight women’s provincial gold medal, Guelph came up short in their bid for a sweep, finishing in third behind Western and Windsor in the men’s race after 11 straight banners.
“Our women are hoping to extend their national title streak to 12 years and seem in good shape to do so. We have a veteran team with lots of experience up front and good depth,” said Guelph head coach Dave Scott-Thomas. “Leading us will be former CIS bronze medalist Kate Ayers, who just finished 4th at the OUA championships in one of the closest front-end battles in conference history. Heather Petrick, former OUA cross country champion, has been neck and neck all season. Former CIS 4th place finisher Katrina Allison also plays a significant role in the team performance.”
Athletes from other OUA schools to keep an eye on this weekend include Clair Sumner and Julie-Anne Staehli of Queen’s, along with Lucia Stafford – sister of 2016 Olympian Gabriela Stafford - of Toronto who made up the women’s podium at the conference championships, as well as male medallists Corey Bellemore of Windsor, Kevin Tree of Lakehead and Jack Sheffar of Western. Staehli won CIS gold in 2013 and silver in 2014.
In the other conferences, the Dalhousie women and StFX men repeated as champion in the AUS, while in the RSEQ, McGill claimed the women’s banner while Laval captured their sixth straight men’s championship. Individually, Dalhousie’s Colleen Wilson and StFX’s Calvin DeWolfe finished atop the podium in the Maritimes, while Mélanie Myrand of McGill and Yves Sikubwabo of Laval triumphed in Quebec.
We see ourselves as the best team in Canada and we are preparing like it during training sessions. We want to be ready to deliver a good performance on November 12
Félix-Antoine Lapointe - Laval head coach
“Our student-athletes and myself as a coach have gained a lot of experience in the last couple of years,” said Laval head coach Félix-Antoine Lapointe, who was a member of the coaching staff at the Rio Paralympics in September. “What is interesting is that the current generation that will run on the Plains of Abraham was, for the most part, on the national podium in the four previous seasons and have learned a lot from these championships. This year, unlike other years, we are viewed as favorites. We must assume it and deliver and I’ll say that as a group, since the beginning of autumn, we act as if we are the favorites. A No.1 (ranking) in the U Sports Top 10 is flattering, but what is most important is how we see ourselves as a team. We see ourselves as the best team in Canada and we are preparing like it during training sessions. We want to be ready to deliver a good performance on November 12.”
There are no cross country championships in Canada West. Results at the CIS meet determine the conference’s individual and team champions. A year ago, the Vikes men’s team championship marked their first in nearly two decades, since winning four in row from 1994 to 1997. Fifth-year Vikes runner Shoayb Bascal had a strong showing at the B.C. provincial championships, finishing in fourth place. The veteran crossed the finish line in 11th last November in Victoria’s upset victory. On the women’s side, Trinity Western (silver) and Calgary (bronze) women both reached the national podium last year.