U Sports Cross-Country 2018 was the year of the underdog. The Laval women and Calgary men both won their first cross-country collegiate titles in program history, and Connor Black made a big comeback to win the men’s race.
Cross-country is a fickle sport. Weather and courses are highly variable, meaning that on any given day, a runner can have the race of their life or truly under-perform. Two days removed from the event, here’s who had unexpected performances on Saturday.
Calgary Dinos Men
Calgary was not expected to win the 2018 U Sports championships. The Dinos were considered a strong team, and cross-country veteran Russell Pennock was expected to perform well, but few expected a win. Calgary was second in 2017, but lost one of their top runners, Alex James to an injury. On top of losing James on their roster, earlier this fall the Dinos’ coach, Doug Lamont, suffered a stroke. Lamont received treatment quickly and only suffered minor deficits.
It takes a lot to get a team of runners in sync on race day, especially in cross-country, a particularly unpredictable discipline of running. Between the difficult conditions and variability of the course, managing to get five runners to have their best possible day at the same time is a big ask. But Calgary pulled it off. Pennock said post-race that it paid to be the underdog. “Everyone had their perfect race. This is like a dream.”
Laval Rouge et Or Women
The Laval women get an A+ because they were a known contender for the win, they executed, and they became the first women’s cross-country team from the RSEQ to win a national title. The team of Aurélie Dubé-Lavoie, Catherine Beauchemin, Anne-Marie Comeau, Jessy Lacourse and Jade Bérubé came together for the win. Laval’s top five runners all have strong results to their name and were clear contenders for the top spots, but first-year runner Bérubé was a real winner, coming through for her team, performing extremely well in her first intercollegiate national championship, and finishing in 37th to round out her team’s overall score of 55 points.
Jones is a University of Calgary medical student who’s performed well at national championships before, but never this well. Jones’ finish in the top five was a shock to herself and her teammates. The second-year med student wasn’t expecting much heading into her race in Kingston, but she put herself in the chase pack off the gun and ran a smart race, closing strong to finish fifth overall and help the Dinos to an eighth-place finish.
Black wasn’t sure if he would be racing the U Sports championships. After a cuboid injury (which sidelined him from the OUA Championships) and getting second place in 2017, Black came back with a win at the 2018 championship. He also said post-race that he’s got some unfinished business on the track, which grants him extra points for already thinking about potential future wins.
Everyone was pretty confident that Brogan MacDougall was going to crush this race, and she did. The 17-year-old ran out front from the gun, secured another win, and also two awards for Rookie of the Year and Athlete of the Year. Well done, Brogan.
Not only is Irvine a first-team All-Canadian, but she’s also the U Sports Community Service Award winner. Irvine had a really strong run on Saturday, finishing eighth and helping the Vikes to a sixth-place finish.
The second-year runner from Western had a rough 2017 championship. Last year Frielink was striding along with Black and eventual champion Yves Sikubwabo when the freshman considerably slowed his pace at the end of his fourth 2K lap, seemingly unaware of having one more lap to cover. Unfortunately, the mistake was costly, as Frielink faded to 122nd. But in 2018, he ran a smart race and held on the the lead pack through the finish. He finished fifth, the first Western man across the line.
The McMaster men did a great thing on Saturday–they finished above fourth place. While they chanted “we’re not fourth” on the podium, and broke their six-year streak, we wanted more from them. With the horsepower of Max Turek, Sergio Raez-Villanueva and Alex Drover, this team had the chance on the right day to take the whole thing.
The Queen’s women finished second, which is a highly respectable placing. They had four runners in the top 15 and a low score of only 62 points. This is a score that historically would’ve granted them the win. For example, the 2017 women’s winners had 73 points. But Queen’s couldn’t respond to the huge performance from the Laval women. While Brogan MacDougall was the winner, sister and third-year runner Branna MacDougall had a tough day, finishing well behind where she was expected to place. This performance is a bust not because it was a bad run, but because Queen’s has had the horses to win two years in a row, but hasn’t quite gotten the job done. We’re hoping this squad can manage to take the title in 2019.