Though not quite where they wanted to be, the Varsity Red’s cross country teams had a strong showing at the AUS championships this past month.
“It was a good experience for me and a lot of the athletes,” said new head coach Chris Belof.
The women’s side was led by Fredericton native first-year Jenna Keilty in 12th position. Fourth years Callie McGuire and Rachel Bennett ran to finishes of 19th and 25th place respectively, closely followed by Natalie Tremblay at 27th and Jana Giles at 29th.
Though the group had a strong showing, the team placed fifth with a score of 109. UNB women composed the smallest group of runners, with only five women competing.
Dalhousie University had the top two finishers of the 41-women pack with Savanna Jordan and Michelle Reddy, in addition to claiming their fifth consecutive AUS Championship banner.
“There were steps forward, but certainly not where we wanted to be,” said Belof.
UNB was edged out by 5 points on the men’s side for a team finish of 4th. The team was led by Michael Colford in 12th position and Ian Verschoor in 18th. Isaac Cull, Trevor Morrison, and Ben Tremblay composed the middle of the pack at 22nd, 26th and 28th place. Dawson Nancekievill followed closely by Mitch Spragg rounded out the men’s team placing in 33rd and 34th out of the 45 men to finish.
“The men’s program had a couple of things kind of not roll their way,” Belof said, referring to the outcome of the race with the team placing just outside of their goal of third.
Dalhousie’s men matched their counterparts performance by earning the AUS Championship banner for the first time since 2010. The Tigers finished with five athletes in the top ten.
Though the some of the team had impressive performances, the veterans and rookies on the team were afflicted with injuries and illness early on in the season. Due to the length of the season, this greatly affected both sides’ AUS outcomes.
“Cross is this crazy sport where you only get like three or four really good races,” said Belof talking about preparation for AUS. “There are essentially 8 weeks before conference [finals], and 10 weeks before nationals.”
Belof says that this timeline makes it difficult to build fitness and strength that will allow athletes to perform at their best. There are rules surrounding every sport as to when a team can begin training at the start of the season, and cross country is no different with the inability for coach-run practices to begin before September.
“Summer season definitely has to be a place where athletes need to take ownership,” he said.
This ownership over training could push both teams to be third in the AUS consistently says Belof.
The team is not sending anyone to nationals, though if they had the desire and funding they could. The cross country USport championships does not have specific standards with regard to placing or time as other sports do and runs as an open competition.
UNB is planning on sending a small team of their more junior runners to the Athletics Canada Cross Country Championships later this month in Kingston, Ontario. The group includes runners Isaac Cull, Ian Verschoor, Mitch Spragg, Tyler Adams and Dawson Nancekievill.
“Honestly, I’m just excited to represent UNB and the province [at] a national level, especially on such a big race to finish off the cross country season,” said Adams.
Belof says that it will be key to the program in the next few years to focus on bringing in a “decent amount of juniors each year.” This will give the longevity to the program needed to reach for their lofty goals of being well within the top 10 programs in the country down the line.
“I have no doubt in my mind,” said Belof when talking about the team’s goals and the way that they compare to the rest of the country. “We’re headed in the right direction to do some big things.”