Home > U Sports

U Sports conference track championship preview: OUA

An in-depth look into the middle-distance and distance events at the OUA conference track and field championship

Stefanie Smith

The 2018 U Sports track and field conference championships are taking place in four venues (one for each U Sport conference) across the country on the weekend of Feb. 23-24.

The top athlete in each event from the RSEQ (Quebec) and AUS (Atlantic) conferences, and the top-two athletes in each event from the OUA (Ontario) and Canada West (Western Canada) conferences will automatically qualify for the U Sports national championship in Windsor, Ont. on March 7-10. Athletes can also qualify for the championship by running faster than U Sports standard times, as well as by being ranked in the national top-12 in a specific event.

Being distance running nerds, Canadian Running takes an in-depth look into the four middle-distance and distance events offered (600m to 3,000m) on the U Sports track circuit, while predicting the top-three finishers in each race.

The OUA (Ontario University Athletics) championship, like the U Sports championship, will be hosted by the Windsor Lancers at the Dennis Fairall Fieldhouse. Currently, the OUA has placed the most athletes in the U Sports top-12 across all events, and promises to hold close and competitive races across the board.

Women’s 600m

Kelsey Balkwill of the Windsor Lancers leads all U Sports runners with a time of 1:26.97. The 300m specialist and Lancer record holder’s clocking, however, is converted from a 400m race. The question then becomes: does Balkwill have the stamina to do that conversion justice? If the answer is yes, she will cruise to victory. If she falters, however, University of Toronto’s Madeleine Kelly could pull off an upset.

Predictions:
1 – Kelsey Balkwill – Windsor
2 – Madeleine Kelly – Toronto
3 – Maeliss Trapeau – Ottawa

Men’s 600m

Last year’s U Sports gold medallist, Tommy Land, is now in his last year of eligibility with the Guelph Gryphons. He currently ranks behind only Sebastian Saville of Carleton University in the national 600m rankings, and is undefeated against OUA competitors this year. He is the lock-in favourite. Due to the graduation of perennial OUA middle distance standouts Corey Bellemore, Alex Ullman and Sasha Smart, and an injury to Windsor Lancer Nick MacMackin, the race for second place is wide open.

Predictions:
1 – Tommy Land – Guelph
2 – Stephen Evans – Ottawa
3 – Michael Petersen – Western

Women’s 1,000m

Expect to see much blue. Four of the top-six seed times belong to Toronto runners. Led by Lucia Stafford, the Varsity Blues will own this race; such a deep roster in the 1,000m bodes well for the Blues’ 4x800m team. Stafford, who is last year’s U Sports 1,000m champion, has run a U Sports-leading time of 2:42.98, which makes her the heavy favourite to win. Charlotte Ward, the Gryphons’ cross-country captain, will try to prevent a Toronto podium sweep.

Predictions:
1 – Lucia Stafford – Toronto
2 – Madeleine Kelly – Toronto
3 – Charlotte Ward – Guelph

Men’s 1,000m

If the Blues have a stranglehold on the women’s 1000m, the same should be said about the Gryphons on the men’s side. Land once again tops the rankings, but he is closely shadowed by teammates Mostafa Elkurdy and Andrew Leblanc. All three have run under 2:25 this year. The trio of Gryphons, however, will be challenged by Windsor Lancer, Joe Kagumba. The senior ranks 11th in U Sports, and has been bettering his seed by the week.

Predictions:
1 – Tommy Land – Guelph
2 – Mostafa Elkurdy – Guelph
3 – Joe Kagumba – Windsor

Women’s 1,500m

Lucia Stafford again has the fastest seed time, but with the 1,500m taking place after the 1,000m and the 4×800 (provided she races), the sophomore will be hard-pressed to take down a talented field. While Stefanie Smith of Windsor and Danielle Jossinet of Guelph might complicate things for Stafford, her most fierce competitor might be a teammate. Sasha Gollish, the 2017 U Sports cross-country champion, has recently taken to the track once again, suggesting that she will compete for the Blues in the 1,500m and 3,000m at the OUA championship. She can never be counted out. A converted seed time of 4:11.51, however, is hard to overlook. Our money is still on Stafford.

Predictions:
1 – Lucia Stafford – Toronto
2 – Sasha Gollish – Toronto
3 – Stefanie Smith – Windsor

Men’s 1,500m

Jack Sheffar is back, baby. Following a disappointing cross-country season, the senior for the Western Mustangs and 2017 OUA 1500m and 3000m champion has been lights out on the track. He is ranked first in the OUA in the 1500m and the 3000m. A pair of Gryphons will challenge him for top spot in the metric mile. Mark Patton, who holds an outdoor PB of 3:44.34, has the wheels to hold on to Sheffar, but has yet to run quite at that level in 2018. Connor Black, the 2017 U Sports cross-country runner-up, is also expected to mix it up in the front. If either Gryphon falters, Craig Klomp of Toronto will earn his first OUA podium finish.

Predictions:
1 – Jack Sheffar – Western
2 – Mark Patton – Guelph
3 – Connor Black – Guelph

Women’s 3,000m

If we based our choice on career credentials alone, Gollish would take it – easy. But, her recent performances (or lack, thereof) do not guarantee a win. (Editor’s note: Gollish ran a 9:39.62 3,000m on Feb. 18.) Expect a three-horse race between Gollish, Smith and Kristina Popadich of Western. While the latter two are training towards the FISU cross-country championship, the former is gearing up for the 2018 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championship. Racing fast on the track is difficult to do when logging half-marathon mileage. In the end, it will be youth, sharpness, and then home track advantage that will make the difference.

Predictions:
1 – Stefanie Smith – Windsor
2 – Kristina Popadich – Western
3 – Sasha Gollish – Toronto

Men’s 3,000m

U Sports 3,000m
Men’s 3,000m. Photo: U Sports.

If it was not for Sheffar’s performance at the Boston Valentine Invitational meet, in which he posted a U Sports-leading time of 8:03.24 in the 3,000m, predicting a winner would have been nearly impossible. Now, however, much like the men’s 600m, the race will likely be for second place. If anybody can steal the belt from Sheffar, however, it is Connor Black. If Black races well, things could get heated. If he races as expected, he will finish second. If he races poorly, his teammates Mark Patton, Ben Workman, Mitchell Ubene, and his fellow Canadian FISU cross-country team member, Sergio Raez-Villanueva of McMaster, will fight him for silver.

Predictions:
1 – Jack Sheffar – Western
2 – Connor Black – Guelph
3 – Sergio Raez-Villanueva – McMaster

Stay tuned for AUS, RSEQ and Canada West previews.