GUELPH – There are a few qualities Dave Scott-Thomas looks for when recruiting athletes for the Guelph Gryphons Track and Field program. He saw one of them the first time he ever met Thomas Land. Long before he had established himself as a U SPORTS champion, Land, then a high school senior from Turkey Point, ran the 600m event at an open meet in April, with snow still on the ground. Former Gryphon star Anthony Romaniw was in the field. Romaniw had already participated in the World Championships at that point and Land made an impression on the veteran competitor. The young runner kept Romaniw in his sights before, as Scott-Thomas described it, getting "his doors blown off."
"Anthony said to me, 'that high school kid, he hung with me,'" Scott-Thomas recalls. "I went over to talk to him and Tommy was like a Marine.
"Hello sir!" Land said.
"Have you applied to U of G?"
"What are you interested in?"
"Tommy, do you like winning?"
"He was a responder," Scott-Thomas adds, suggesting that he doesn't know any athlete worth their sand that hasn't suffered a big defeat along the way. "When he got his butt kicked, he said, 'I don't like how that felt.'
"We have a number of those athletes."
Land, now a fifth-year Mechanical Engineering student, who was named Performer of the Meet at last year's U SPORTS national championship, is that determined, courageous competitor that Scott-Thomas looks for in a sport he refers to as "athletic Darwinism." A meet may take two days to complete but track and field moves at breakneck speed. Decisions are made quickly and often, athletes aren't happy with them.
But that's life in the Gryphons' elite program, which just debuted atop the U SPORTS polls on both the women's and men's side with the heart of the season about to begin. Guelph will bring two bus loads of athletes and staff, almost 110 people in total, to the CANAM Classic in Windsor this weekend. The Gryphons aren't looking to peak just yet but the meet is important in the sense that it will provide plenty of opportunity for team members trying to make their mark, while also giving them a look at some of their main competitors leading up to the OUA Championships in February and the U SPORTS meet beyond that.
Only 29 athletes can go to the OUAs.
"For us, it's complicated because the 30th kid on our team is very good," says Scott-Thomas.
The Gryphon women and men each took provincial honours last season, with the men earning their second national title in five years. The quest begins again. It's a complex season involving the management of a huge, talented team, and the weekly rigours of mobilizing the equivalent of what Scott-Thomas calls a "a MASH unit," referring to the massive amount of equipment and training tables that gets packed on buses.
The head coach says that succeeding at track and field is far more difficult than cross country, for example, where the focus is on one particular event. In track and field, there are 17 events, all very technical, with precision being key. It takes a lot to orchestrate it all.
"There are precious few opportunities to do it so you absolutely have to be spot on," says Scott-Thomas. "This weekend allows us to see where people are at from a training and delivery perspective but also a preparatory perspective in terms of emotion and psychology. And they know that. You have to be ready."
The Gryphons will showcase a blend of elite veterans, athletes in the process of growing into bigger roles – like Land and defending OUA cross country champion Connor Black did in their middle years – and high-end rookies trying to prove themselves on the university stage. Talent is obviously critical to success. But Scott-Thomas notes that Guelph's rise as a track and field power over the last decade-plus is a result of one thing.
"The biggest impact in terms of tipping us consistently in the hunt for titles is staff," he says. "If you gave me this terrible choice where you lose the field house and equipment and keep your staff or lose your staff and get an even better fieldhouse, I'd take the staff every time. Not only would I put our staff up against the best in the country, I actually 100 per cent believe, they are the best in the country.
"That's the gamechanger. My job as a head coach is to create an environment where they can thrive and feel motivated – and then get the hell out of the way."
Scott-Thomas doesn't go as far as to call the program's members family. They have a unique process where all voices are heard regarding who will compete, or the health status of an athlete where trainers and doctors play key roles. He says that everyone puts in the time, are open to change, and willing to have their boundaries pushed.
"In its own weird and twisted way, it's deeper than family dynamics," Scott-Thomas says. "High-performance sport is brutal in how fast it moves with the decision-making process and how blunt it can be.
"The complexity of a team this size and how we all function together, it's fascinating to me."
The women's sprints team is loaded with exceptional talent across all event groups. This group will be led by fourth-year athlete and captain Sarah Hammond, who has run the third fastest 60m hurdle race in Canadian collegiate history. They are boosted by an amazing sophomore class, including OUA and U SPORTS medalists Shyvonne Roxborough and Jenna Smith, both coming off summer seasons where they gained international experience on the Canadian national team. Other standout returners from last year's roster include Lauren D'Agnolo (fourth in 300m at U SPORTS as a rookie), Tessa Hamilton (300m, relays, pole vault), Zaria Armstrong (60m), Vanessa Gray (60m), Hailey Hitchings (60mH), Emma Nero (60mH) and Tiana Sinnatamby (4x400m).
Bolstering this incredibly talented roster even further is the return from injury of junior national bronze medalist over 200m, Nicole Smith. Recruits Kendra Leger, Zoe Sherar and Morgan Byng comprise an incoming class that will help the team become a national contender.
Sarah Hammond 60mH 8.27 (fastest time in Canada), second place at OUA, Shyvonne Roxborough 60m silver, 7.51 (U SPORTS), 7.44 Gold (OUA), Jenna Smith 300m silver, 38.95 (U SPORTS), silver 39.41 (OUA), Lauren D'Agnolo fourth place OUA, fourth place U SPORTS (39.15), Emma Nero eighth (U SPORTS), Hailey Hitchings seventh (U SPORTS).
Kendra Leger OFSAA silver medallist 100m/100mh, National silver medalist 100m/100mh , Zoe Sherar, 200/400m specialist - three-time provincial medalist, Morgan Byng, 200-300m specialist – fifth-ranked junior in Canada over 300m in 2017
Perennial OUA and U SPORTS medal threat Jackson Cheung will lead the men's team as they attempt to defend their 2017 U SPORTS championship. Cheung finished with the silver medal in the national 60m hurdle final last year behind teammate and recent graduate Gregory MacNeill. All-around sprint star Graeme Thompson is expected to make a huge splash for the Gryphons. Thompson is back for his sophomore year after running for Canada's national 4x400m relay team at the World Relays event this past summer.
U SPORTS qualifiers from last year Jayden Kelly (60m, 4x200m) and Matt Creelman (60m) add depth to the roster, along with up-and-coming Gryphons Nathan Egert (300m, 4x200m), Davis Edward (300m, 4x200m), Kyle Sinden (60m) and football standout Jason Richards (60m). James Muharrem (60mH, 300m), Kurdell Reason (60m), Grant Richard (60mH), as well as multi-event talent Sebastian Smith (60mH, HJ, LJ) and recent transfer Bedi Ndinsil (300, 4x400m), form a new class of stars looking to build on Guelph's success last season.
Jackson Cheung, OUA – 60mh silver medal 8.28, U SPORTS – 60mh silver medal 8.17, Graeme Thompson, top returning 60m runner in Canada (6.86)
Kurdell Reason – Whitby, Ontario, 60m/100m/200m – 7.01, 10.85, 22.37, James Muharrem – Chatham, Ontario, 100mh/400mh – 14.40, 55.60 – SWOSSA record holder in the 100mh, sixth OFSAA 400mh, sixth 100mh, Grant Richard – Oshawa, Ontario, 60mh – 8.50
Guelph's women's distance team is coming off a solid cross-country season where it placed fifth at the national championships. Captain Charlotte Ward (1500m/1000m) and fellow veterans Danielle Jossinet (1500/3000m) and Hannah Woodhouse (1500/3000m) will be impact athletes this year. Woodhouse finished third in the 3000m last year and will be looking to build onto that success. Other notable names are Dana Earhart (600/1000), who won a medal in the 4x8 relay, and returning 600m specialist Olivia Romaniw (600/4x8), who finished sixth the last time she ran at the national championships in 2016.
The rookie class boasts a young and exceptional group of ladies from all over the country. Emma Hubbard (800/1500/3000m), Christina Sevsek (3000/5000m), Julia Sevsek (3000m), Sadie Jane Hickson (Steeplechase/3000m) and Kiana Gibson (400mh/Steeplechase) are a mixture of national team members, and provincial medalists from three different provinces.
Danielle Jossinet, U SPORTS XC 2017 – tenth, OUA 3000m – tenth Hannah Woodhouse, OUA – 3000m BRONZE MEDAL, Charlotte Ward, U SPORTS – 4x8 – SILVER MEDAL, 1000m tenth, Olivia Romaniw , Dana Earhardt, U SPORTS – SILVER MEDAL 4x8
Emma Hubbard (Calgary AB) 800m – 2:11.16, 1500m – 4:34.94, 3000m – 10:10.25, Sadie Jane Hickson (Lindsay,Ontario) 3000m – 11:43.91, Christina Sevsek (Surrey BC) 3000m – 9:52.99, 5000m – 17.11.13, Julia Sevse (Surrey BC) 3000m – 10:00, Kiana Gibson (Ottawa, ON) – 400mH – 1:03.86, 1500m Steeplechase – 5:27.75
The men's distance team are showing strong signs of readiness coming off a stellar cross country season, which saw them reclaim their spot on the top of podium at nationals, with a silver medal performance from captain Connor Black (1500/3000M) and a slew of All-Canadians nods. Adding to this talented group of athletes is U SPORTS Male of Athlete of the Year Tommy Land (600/1000m/4x8/4x4), who finished first in the 600m and second in the 1000m at last year's national championships.
Josh Kellier, Kyle Madden, Mark Patton and four-time OFSAA medalist Brayden Clarke add incredible depth. Kellier and Patton hope to build on the form they showed this past summer and into the cross-country season.
Tommy Land – U SPORTS 2017 – 600m GOLD MEDAL, 1000m SILVER MEDAL / OUA – 600m GOLD MEDAL, 1000m SILVER MEDAL, 4X8 BRONZE MEDAL Connor Black – U SPORTS XC 2017 – CHAMPION, U SPORTS TF – 1500m seventh, 3000m fourth, OUA – 3000m – fourth, 1500m – fifth, Josh Kellier – 1500m 3:44.25 (Outdoors), Canadian National Championships 3000m steeplechase – fourth, Kyle Madden – Junior National Champion 1500m, 1500m – SILVER MEDAL 3:44.19 (Pan Am U20), Mark Patton – OUA 1500m – BRONZE MEDAL, 3000m - fifth
Brayden Clarke 800m – 1:52.99, 1500m – 3:53.61
WOMEN'S JUMPS & COMBINED EVENTS
The women's jumps and combined events group will be led by triple jump silver medalist Jordan Bates and fellow veterans Maja Naruszewicz (HJ), Gabby Marton (HJ), Emiliy Bowerman (Pentathlon), Marissa Dubois (60m/TJ/LJ), and Tess Hamilton (PV). Naruszewicz is back from an injury and looking to find the form that won her a bronze medal at the national championships. Bates hopes to retain her OUA title and win her first gold medal at nationals. OFSAA bronze medalist Emily Newton and Canada Summer Games gold medalist Arabella Alton will support this strong veteran group as they seek to win a national championship.
Jordan Bates – OUA – TJ 12.09m - GOLD MEDAL, U SPORTS – TJ 12.00m – SILVER MEDAL, Gabby Marton – OUA – HJ 1.66m – fourth, U SPORTS– HJ 1.62 – eighth, Maja Naruszewicz – 1.76 (2015), 1.73 (2016), Emily Bowerman – OUA – SILVER MEDAL, U SPORTS Pentathlon – eighth, Tess Hamilton OUA – PV – fifth, Marissa Dubois – Junior National LJ Finalist.
Arabella Alton – GOLD Canada Summer Games – 1.74, Emily Newton – OFSAA PV – BRONZE MEDAL – 3.30M
MEN'S JUMPS & COMBINED EVENTS
The men's jumps team has depth in both the high jump and the long jump events. They will be led by captains Mark Emode (Heptathlon/60mH) and Sean Cate (HJ). Cate is coming off a superb summer season in which he won the Francophone Games with jump of 2.20m. Emode, Torres (HJ), Archer (HJ/60mH/LJ) and returnee Owen Hebb (LJ) add a lot experience to a very strong group.
New additions include the multi-talented Sebastian Smith (HJ), Elijah Ampratwum (LJ/TJ) and OFSAA silver medalist and transfer Gerrard Wallace. All of these young men will look to make an immediate impact at the national level for the Gryphons.
Sean Cate OUA – HJ 2.10 GOLD MEDAL, U SPORTS HJ 2.15 SILVER MEDAL, Mark Emode – OUA – GOLD MEDAL, U SPORTS – BRONZE MEDAL, Mitchell Torres – 2.04m sixth (2016), 2.04 fifth (2015), Justice Archer – LJ 6.85, 60mH 8.58, Owen Hebb – LJ 7.09
Sebastian Smith HJ – 2.06m, LJ – 7.14m, 110mH – 14.40, Elijah Ampratwum LJ – 6.95, Gerrard Wallace LJ – 7.16m – OFSAA SILVER MEDAL
Guelph's men's throws team gets some firepower from two of Canada's best junior throwers in Thomas Nedow (WT/SP) and Mark Bujnowski (WT/SP). Buknowski was a national team member at the Pan Am Games last summer, and a two-time medalist at national championships. Nedow is a five-time OFSAA silver medalist and finished on the heels of Bujnowski in the discus this summer at the national championships. The addition of these two young athletes will have a big impact on the throws team.
Matthew Bartoletta, Andrias Balsas
Mark Bujnowski SP – 18.41m, Discus – 57.00m, Thomas Nedow SP – 17.16, Discus – 54.07