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U Sports transfers and rookies who could be cross-country X factors

These newcomers to, or notable transfers within, the Canadian university sport (U Sports) system could make a big difference for their teams this fall

U Sports Cross-Country
CIS Cross-Country
Photo: Mathieu Belanger.

Fall is here and that means it’s cross-country time.

With action beginning to ramp up over the next two plus months, ultimately culminating at the 2017 U Sports Cross-Country Championships, it’s time to predict who may be factors in the weeks to come.

This year’s Canadian university championships head west as the University of Victoria plays host on Nov. 12. (Reminder: The Canadian university sports system is known as U Sports, a branding change from CIS, made last fall.)

Although a team aspect is present in track and field, it’s much more prominent in cross-country as five of a team’s top runners contribute to an overall score. The lower, the better. Early in the fall, teams compete at invitationals and opens in preparation for regionals, and then nationals.

RELATED: Canadian cross-country races for runners of all levels.

The U Sports system is broken down into geographical divisions: the Atlantic (AUS), Quebec (RSEQ), Ontario (OUA) and the west (Canada West). In 2017, the men will contest 10K while the women contest 8K, an increase of 2K from previous years as race distances move towards gender equity.

Here are U Sports newcomers to watch for during the U Sports cross-country campaign.

Branna MacDougall – Queen’s


The Canadian U20 5,000m record holder, who spent the 2016-2017 academic year with Iowa State University, announced that she was transferring to Queen’s University in her hometown of Kingston, Ont. last March. The 19-year-old has run 15:48.80 for 5,000m and has the strongest credentials of any newcomer to the U Sports system for 2017.

MacDougall, the older sister of Brogan MacDougall, the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games bronze medallist at 3,000m, ran 16:22 at the Canadian 5K Road Race Championships on Sept. 10, her first major race since the 2016 NCAA Division One Cross-Country Championships in November, 2016. She, for the most part, struggled with Iowa State, following her record 5,000m performance at the IAAF World Junior Championships in the summer of 2016. She’s entered for the 2017 Western International Invitational – her first race as a Queen’s Gael.

Isaiah Frielink – Western

OFSAA Senior Boys 1500m
Photo: Adam Wojtkowiak.

The 2017 OFSAA senior boys 1,500m champion is attending Western University in London, Ont. this fall as a true freshman. He’s run 3:51.04 for 1,500m and 8:29.02 for 3,000m.

Jean-Simon Desgagnes – Laval


The 2017 Pan American U20 Championships gold medallist in the 3,000m steeplechase partially fills the void created by three departing runners – Emmanuel Boisvert, Alexandre Ricard and Benjamin Raymond – on the University of Laval men’s team. The Rouge et Or are the defending U Sports team champions on the men’s side, winning the program’s first cross-country title in history on home soil last November.

Desgagnes won the 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m at the Canadian U20 Championships in Ottawa. He’s run a scorching 8:49.83 for the steeplechase.

“We do not want to be the team that had a big year and then disappears,” head coach Felix-Antoine Lapointe says of his Laval squad.

Jessy Lacourse – Laval

The 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships qualifier in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase joins the University of Laval. Lacourse won consecutive Canadian Collegiate Cross-Country Championships titles in 2015 and 2016. She’s transferring from Cégep Garneau, also in Quebec City.

Lacourse debuted for the Rouge et Or at the McGill Open on Sept. 16, finishing second overall to McGill’s Meggie Dargis.

Anne-Marie Comeau – Laval

The 2015 Pan American Junior Championships silver medallist over 5,000m and national class cross-country skier is another addition to the University of Laval. She previously attended Cégep Limoilou.

Laura Dickinson – Guelph

Laura Dickinson
Photo: Diana Foxall.

The Canadian U20 5,000m champion, who hails from New Brunswick, joins a University of Guelph women’s squad who have dominated U Sports in recent years. The Gryphons have won the U Sports, or CIS as it was then-known, title every year since 2004.

Christina Sevsek – Guelph

The Sevsek sisters finished second and third behind Hannah Bennison at the 2016 B.C. High School Cross-Country Championships. Christina was second and heads east to Guelph, Ont. as part of a strong recruiting class under head coach Dave Scott-Thomas.

Julie Sevsek – Guelph

The bronze medallist at the B.C. High School Cross-Country Championships too joins Guelph.

Christina finished 15th at the Queen’s Open, the opening meet of the year for cross-country runners in Ontario, while Julie was 19th.

Braydon Clarke – Guelph


The 2016 OFSAA Cross-Country Championships senior boys silver medallist stays in Ontario as he joins the University of Guelph. The Gryphons men had a nine-year U Sports winning streak broken in 2015, by Victoria, and again lost out in 2016 to Laval.

Clarke finished 13th at the Queen’s Open in his Gryphons debut at the Queen’s Open.

Cal DeWolfe – Dalhousie


A fifth-year transfer from St. FX in Antigonish, where three-time Olympian Eric Gillis is now the assistant coach, Cal DeWolfe joins Dalhousie as he attends law school. The Bridgewater, N.S. native is the defending Atlantic University Sport (AUS) cross-country champion after leading the X-Men to their sixth straight AUS men’s team title in 2016.

Guillaume Chénard – Laval

Though he joined Laval in January, 2016, Chenard bolsters the Laval line-up. A provincial cross-country champion in 2015 and national bronze medallist in the collegiate system, the runner formerly attended Cégep de Sherbrooke.

Savanna Jordan – Dalhousie

The 2016 Alberta High School Cross-Country Championships gold medallist from Calgary heads about as far east as Canada gets in joining the Dalhousie Tigers in Halifax.

Amy Stephenson – Queen’s

A transfer from Western University, the 2016 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) First-Team All-Star joins Queen’s for her third year of eligibility. Stephenson is a strong addition as Julie-Anne Staehli departs the team, having finished her final year of cross-country eligibility in 2016. The only Queen’s University student to have ever earned fifth consecutive All-Canadian honours remains an assistant coach with the Gaels.

“We are taking dead aim at the title this year,” head coach Steve Boyd says of the Gaels women’s team at the national university cross-country championships.

Stephenson finished third overall in her Gaels debut at the Queen’s Open on Sept. 16.

Sergio Raez-Villanueva – McMaster


Sergio Raez-Villanueva will run for McMaster University this U Sports cross-country season. The IAAF World Junior Championships qualifier in the 10,000m who formerly competed for McGill finished fourth, and first among non-NCAA (American university) athletes, at the University of Buffalo Stampede on Sept. 15.