U Sports Cross-Country

Photo: Tim Huebsch.

By Evan Andrin

‘Putdowns and Prognostications’ is back for another instalment of ‘practically pre-season predictions’ in 2017. Coming off a hiatus in 2016, I’m proud to announce that Canadian Running magazine has claimed P&P from waivers. And not a moment too soon for U Sports Cross-Country is in desperate need of some mud-slinging in advance of any actual mud-slinging that may take place at Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park on Nov. 12.

RELATED: U Sports cross-country mid-season power rankings.

For those unfamiliar, P&P started as ​​a satire of another nerdy ​Canadian ​running blog, ‘Slanders & Speculations’, and more-or-less sticks to its title: I put down and I prognosticate. Some might say I’m out of touch with the scholastic cross-country scene, some might say I’m a bit too harsh in my criticism, but I won’t let that stop me [period] from delivering hard-and-fast hunches on how the Canadian university cross-country championships will roll out.

And now without further delay:

Women

1. Toronto

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I ruffled some feathers in 2015 when I called the Varsity Blues for the team win, but in 2017, much like it was during that era of #TheDress, Blue is gold. The Blues have first-place promise with Olympian Gabriela Stafford and Sasha Gollish lurking in the gut of the Don Valley though coach Ross ‘The Boss’ Risstuccia hints we likely won’t see them, if at all this season, before the Ontario championships. Time will tell whether this paper tiger comes with claws, but I’m willing to stick my neck out now to be the one saying ‘I told you so’ later.

Top-five: Gollish (4:07 1500, 9:00 3K, 15:24 5000), G. Stafford (2nd in 2015, 4:03 1500, 9:13 3K), L. Stafford (6th in 2016, 4:16 1500), Kelly (18th in 2016, 4:24 1500), Shukla (4:25 1500)

2. Queen’s

Western Cross-Country Invitational

Photo: Tim Huebsch.

I’ve been riding the [head coach Steve] Boyd bandwagon for so long that my bottom has splinters, so it may come as a shock to see the Gaels slated for silver. Yet for being such a morally upstanding guy, fighting for distance equality and all, ‘Oldster’ seems to have no problem landing rival teams’ talent. It started in 2013 with Victoria Coates, continued in 2014, with Claire ‘500 Days of’ Sumner, and in to 2017, with Branna MacDougall and Amy Stephenson.

Top-five: MacDougall (9:16 3K, 15:48 5000), Sumner (1st in 2016, 9:35 3K, 16:37 5000, 33:47 10,000), Stephenson (19th in 2016, 4:36 1500, 9:41 3K), Murray (21st in 2016), Sills (34th in 2016, 10:13 3K)

3. Laval

CIS Cross-Country

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger.

I called Laval for a breakout in 2014 and I’m doubling down on it three years later. This team is criminally underrated, overshadowed by the meteoric rise of the men’s team and an injury-riddled line-up at last year’s show. Coach Lapointe’s ladies are my final pick to ‘slide into the (po)DMs.’

Top-five: Dubé-Lavoie (10th in 2016, 9:26 3K, 16:04 5000), Lacourse (4:18 1500, 9:24 3K, 16:29 5000), Comeau (9:39 3K, 16:26 5000, 34:28 10,000(R)), Belanger (10:00 3K, 16:56 5000), Gauthier (4:27 1500, 9:32 3K, 16:36 5000)

4. Guelph

U Sports Cross-Country

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger.

The Lady Gryphs are not likely to repeat as champions after 12 consecutive titles, so ending the longest running streak (ha ha) in U Sports Cross-Country. Coach DST figures his team to be the underdogs this year. If they can tackle the Beacon Hill course, they might yet stave off the dog days for another year.

Top-five: Petrick (9th in 2016, 9:24 3K, 1604 5000), Woodhouse (17th in 2016, 4:27 1500, 9:33 3K), Ward (4:22 1500), Jossinet (23rd in 2016, 9:54 3K, 17:42 5000), Wismer (16th in 2015, 10:07 3K, 17:43 5000)

5. Trinity Western

CIS Cross-Country

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger.

The Spartistas lost a huge part of their team last year in Harradine and Brooking, and with only a handful of runners to begin with, I mean that both literally and figuratively. Still, knowing coach Bomba, expect at least two of his three new recruits this year to be All-Canadians [top-14 at nationals] during their TWU tenure.

Top-five: Yee (5th in 2016, 4:09 1500, 9:20 3K), Martens (29th in 2016, 9:36 3K, 16:54 5000), Chang (rookie), Williams (38th in 2016, 4:46 1500, 10:05 3K), Smart (47th in 2016, 4:50 1500, 18:11 5000)

Men

1. Laval

U Sports Cross-Country

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger.

Encore un or pour ‘Les Boys’, who are poised to repeat as title-takers again in this year’s men’s race. Last year’s individual winner, Laval’s pièce de résistance and DIY balaclava designer Yves Sikubwabo, is joined by an elite cast of scantily clad runners including wizened vets Morin and Racine, last year’s 3K track champ Antoine Thibeault and rookie sensation (and my pick for this year’s ‘Bowling for Soup’ award) Jonathan Tedeschi. Seriously, on a team where even the masseuse runs 14:48 for 5K, this year’s competition will be a runaway.

Top-five: Sikubwabo (1st in 2016, 14:05 5000), Thibeault (5th in 2016, 8:03 3K, 14:05​ 5000), Tedeschi (8:10 3K, 14:12 5000), Racine (20th in 2016, 14:32 5000, 30:32 10,000), Morin (25th in 2015, 8:25 3K, 14:32 5000),

2. Guelph

#tbt to CIS XC. This day crosses my mind a lot.

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This team is more poised to bounce back than Justin Gatlin coming off a doping suspension. Patton, Black [of this fame], Workman and Ubene know their way around the Arboretum better than they know their way to class, and X-factor Alex ‘DJ ASH’ Hinton will be looking to channel his old-man strength and put the boots to guys up to eight years his junior.

Top-five: Black (19th in 2015, 14:24 5000, 30:06​ 10,000), Patton (54th in 2016, 3:44 1500, 8:16 3K), Workman (62nd in 2016, 14:48 5000, 30:57 10,000), Ubene (49th in 2016, 8:24 3K, 14:48 5000), Hinton (26th in 2011, 8:28 3K, 14:35 5000(R))

3. Trinity Western

U Sports Cross-Country

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger.

It’s hard for me to back the Sparse-tans, considering the fact that Declan White, perennial front-runner for the men’s title (though sometimes he takes that a bit too close to heart), was (is?) injured this summer and has yet to race this fall. Still, I’ve been bitten before betting against Bomba, and since I gave the Toronto women the benefit of the doubt, for the sake of logical consistency, I’ll do the same for the Sparts (though I certainly don’t have to be happy about it).

Top-five: White (2nd in 2016, 14:07 5000, 29:58 10,000R), Colyn (8:32 3K, 8:54 3K SC, 21st in 2016), de Jong (22nd in 2016, 14:25 5000, 30:38 10,000R), Neufeld (87th in 2015, 3:48 1500), Lam (3:51 1500)

4. Queen’s

Western Cross-Country Invitational

Photo: Tim Huebsch.

Steve [Boyd] is at it again, plucking athletes from relative obscurity, possibly ultimate Frisbee leagues, and transforming them into highly-capillarized contenders. They will be joined on the start-line by the pride of Almonte, Ont., professional greenskeeper Alex Wilkie, back from last year’s hip surgery, and a strong, now fully in-bloom, 2014 recruiting class, punctuated by Eric Wynands. The Gaels are known for flying under the radar and are set to turn heads on the Beacon Hill course and at the after-party.

Top-five: Wilkie (31st in 2015, 8:19 3K, 14:45 5000R), Wynands (27th in 2016, 14:52 5000, 30:38 10,000), Schmidt (30th in 2016, 14:41 5000, 30:38 10,000), Kanko (41st in 2016, 14:53 5000, 30:39 10,000), Kirby (Limestone Mile winner 2017)

5. McMaster

U Sports Cross-Country

Photo: Mathieu Bélanger.

Having changed over their entire team from 2015, coach Paula Schnurr now has a fresh clutch of Marauders, led by middle-distance standout Jeff Tweedle and the best rookie outside La Belle Province, Max Turek. Not an immediate medal threat, but one to keep an eye on in the near future.

Top-five: Turek (8:39 3K), Tweedle (10th in 2016, 3:46 1500, 8:32 3K), Raez Villanueva (3:48 1500, 14:22 5000, 30:00 10000), Favero (8:37 3K, 15:05 5000), McGillivray (8:35 3K, 14:50 5000)

Once a runner, now a fully-fledged weekend warrior, Evan is a previous OFSAA and CIS medallist, and former captain of the Queen’s Gaels cross-country team.


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