The 2021 U Sports women’s cross-country season is now underway, with many of the nation’s top teams competing since we released our preseason rankings on Sept. 13. Let’s take a look at how the earlier season competition impacted our power rankings before the drama begins to unfold in October.
Cross-country is a highly variable event, but here’s how Canada’s top university teams stack up in Canadian Running‘s projection of the U Sports Cross-Country Championships, based on race results.
Women’s U Sports cross country rankings: (Sept. 27)
1. Laval University (0 spots)
Although Laval came third at the Western Invitational, they were missing the U Sports title favourite, Jessy Lacourse. Lacourse did not make the trip to London, as she won the week prior in Montreal. Catherine Beauchemin carried the Rouge-et-Or reins in Lacourse’s absence, winning the Western Invitational in a sit-and-kick. Sara-Pier Paquet was the top rookie at the meet, finishing seventh, and will continue to gain confidence as the season evolves. When Lacourse is competing, Laval has a solid top five that can all place inside the top 20 in any field – that is why they remain in the top spot.
2. Guelph University (0 spots)
What a run by this Guelph team at the Western Invitational! Kiana Gibson and Sadie-Jane Hickson are in impressive form, working together at the front of the pack to finish second and third. New coach Terry Radchenko couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season than seeing this team beat Western, Laval and McMaster. This team has five solid athletes between their third and eighth spots that can battle for position each meet. Even with Cameron Ormond out, Guelph is the team to beat in the OUA conference.
3. University of Saskatchewan (0 spots)
The Huskies had their first XC competition of the year hosting the Sled Dog Open, which they won, easily. Courtney Hufsmith showed the country that she is after the U Sports title, winning the meet by 55 seconds, over her teammate Jenna McFadyen. The Huskies had five runners in the top 10 to win the team title over the fifth-ranked University of Calgary. For the Huskies to move up in our rankings, they will need to continue to dominate through their Canada West season.
4. Western University (0 spots)
Western’s Anna Carruthers led the women’s 8K at the Western Invitational for a majority of the race, until she fell off the lead pack in the last few kilometres. Carruthers and Heidi Ohrling ran a gritty race to finish in the top 10. This Western team has the depth to give Guelph a scare at OUA’s, but their captain, Kate Current, is instrumental in their overall success this season. Current chose not to race at the meet. It will be interesting to see if this team can continue building on great performances.
5. University of Calgary (+5 spots)
The largest movement of the week is the University of Calgary Dinos women’s team, up five spots from the previous rankings. They had an amazing result, finishing second at the Sled Dog Open, behind the third-ranked team in the country, the Saskatchewan Huskies. This team is very young, with an average age of 19, but has a lot of front-end talent, led by rookie Sihaam Khalid, who was fifth at the meet. Their top five finished just behind Khalid to secure second place, and impose a threat on the Canada West conference in weeks to come. I can’t see the Dinos beating the Huskies, as the Huskies are just that good, but will be tightly matched up with UBC in the weeks ahead.
6. McMaster University (-1 spot)
Despite dropping from fifth to sixth in our rankings, the McMaster women had a fantastic meet at the Western Invitational, with six athletes finishing inside the top 25 in a deep field. Fifth-year veteran Erin Mawhinney returned to cross country competition, finishing eighth, and was the fifth OUA athlete across the line. Mawhinney and the Marauders will be back in action this weekend at the Don Olson Classic in Waterloo, Ont.
7. UBC (+1 spot)
The UBC Thunderbirds women’s team won the UVikes Invitational this weekend, putting them up one spot in our rankings. Although the meet was small, UBC had six athletes finish from third to eighth, led by Jamie Hennessey. This team’s position is hard to predict in the rankings, due to a lack of competition. They are competing at the Trinity Western Invitational in a few weeks, which will hopefully provide some clarity on the talent of this squad.
8. St. Francis Xavier University (+1 spot)
The X-women move up a spot from the preseason ranking thanks to their win at the StFX Invitational. Although the meet lacked depth, the X-women took care of business, with four athletes finishing in the top five. Rookie Siona Chisholm won the 6K race by 45 seconds over the rest of the field, on a tough hilly course. This team will be competing in AUS conference action this weekend.
9. McGill University (-2 spots)
The McGill women’s team has fallen two spots in our rankings, but they should move up if they can win this weekend at the Capital XC Invite in Ottawa. The Martlets went head to head against the number-one ranked Laval at Mont-Royal two weeks back, only finishing 11 points back. This team is led by strong veterans and some young talent that can make some noise this fall in the rankings.
10. UBC Okanagan (+7 spots)
This team was not on the radar until we discovered their top-end talent, which features a deadly duo. Lauren McNeil won the UVikes Invitational by 30 seconds over teammate and Olympian triathlete Joanna Brown. McNeil is from England but is competing for UBC Okanagan on international exchange. McNeil was third in the 3,000m at British U20 championships earlier this summer and should be a threat to contend for the individual U Sports title this fall. The coach of this team is Canadian marathoner and Olympian Malindi Elmore.
Women’s teams on the bubble: Queen’s University, Dalhousie Tigers, Windsor Lancers, UVic Vikes, and Montreal Carabins