Banner Season: McMaster men ready for repeat on home course, while Queen’s women aim for continued dominance

Banner Season: McMaster men ready for repeat on home course, while Queen’s women aim for continued dominance

Hamilton, Ont. (via David DiCenzo) – For the past two months, athletes across the province have been putting in the work to prepare for their most important race of the season. And those teams that peak at just the right time on the beautiful Bayfront Park course in Hamilton will have the privilege of taking home a banner from the 2019 OUA Cross Country Championships, hosted by McMaster University.

2019 OUA Cross Country Championships Fan Guide

In 2018, the Queen’s Gaels experienced the elation that comes with finishing on the podium. While the Queen’s men earned an impressive silver medal in the team competition, the women secured their second consecutive OUA banner and eighth overall championship in the program’s storied history. Leading the push for a three-peat is the Gaels’ sister combination of Brogan and Branna MacDougall.

Brogan burst on to the scene as a rookie last year and managed to take individual gold at the 2018 championship, finishing the women’s 8km race in a time of 28:03. Branna, then in her third year, came in second to help the team hoist the aptly-named Queen’s University Cup. The Kingston-born duo were the top Canadian finishers in the Lehigh Paul Short Run’s women’s college gold 6k event, leading the Queen’s women to a win in that event with Branna coming in fifth and Brogan just .03 seconds behind her. But the top-ranked Gaels also have incredible depth with OUA All-stars Makenna Fitzgerald and Kara Blair ready to repeat their Top-10 finishes from last season’s race.

“We're approaching it the way we've approached each invitational; every athlete has a role and a counterpart on another team they have to beat and we'll try to keep it as routine as possible and have them go do their thing,” head coach Steve Boyd says of his women’s team.

The Queen’s men hope to take one step up on the podium after last year’s second-place finish in London. Mitchell de Lange, a third-year athlete from Utopia, ON, leads a trio of OUA All-stars that includes Mitchell Kirby and Matt Flood. de Lange recently placed second overall at the RSEQ/OUA Interlock meet in Montreal and is a legitimate threat to take the individual men’s title. This group would love to gather some momentum at the provincial meet before hosting the U SPORTS championship at Fort Henry on Nov. 9.

They're having a lot of fun with it, they know they have nothing to lose and it'd be thrilling to bring back a banner,” Boyd says of the Queen’s men. “That's at least a 50 per cent goal for them is to do one better at OUA's this year.”

The host Marauders aren’t exactly ready to relinquish the H.R. Little Cup just yet, though. McMaster’s men enter the OUA Championships as the No. 2-ranked team in the country, anchored by third-year standout Max Turek. The Whitby, ON native and 2017 OUA Rookie of the Year built on a fantastic first year by winning the individual gold in the 10km event at the 2018 OUA Championships, subsequently helping McMaster earn its first provincial banner since 1964. Turek is the Marauders’ reigning Male Athlete of the Year and he showed no signs of a letdown this season after a couple silver-medal performances at both the Loyola Lakefront Invitational in Chicago and the Bill Salter Invitational in London, events that the McMaster team won.

Third-year man Alex Drover and second-year runner Andrew Davies have also played integral roles in the Marauders’ dominant cross-country season. Drover should be filled with confidence after winning individual gold on the same course at the Marauders Bayfront Open just two weeks ago, which paved the way for the team’s third consecutive first-place finish. A solid supporting cast comprised of Sergio Raez Villanueva, Evan Ubene, Josh McGillivray, and Dylan Alick complement the lead trio. McMaster is among the favourites and there is hope that this group can replicate the success of the men’s team that won three straight banners from 1962 through 1964.

The Mac women enter the championships with an intriguing blend of talent and youth, suggesting that the future looks bright. Second-year athlete Caroline Forbes has been the most consistent performer for a team that placed sixth in the 2018 OUA Championships. Forbes should be in contention for a Top 10 finish on her home turf.

When championship season comes around, the Guelph Gryphons often rise to the occasion. Though gold has eluded them in the last two seasons, the Gryphon women have been amongst the most successful programs in Canadian university sports with 13 consecutive gold medals (and 12 national titles) from 2004 to 2016. Guelph took silver in 2018 and the women enter the provincial meet ranked No. 2 in the country behind only the defending-champion Gaels.

In fifth-year star Danielle Jossinet, the Gryphons have an experienced and incredibly decorated leader. Jossinet has earned an OUA medal in each of her previous four years, including two golds, a silver, and a bronze, as well as several pieces of U SPORTS hardware. The Cobourg, ON native got a taste of what it was like to be both an OUA and national team champion in her first two years as a Gryphon and after a sixth-place individual finish in 2018, she will undoubtedly look to cap her provincial cross-country career in style, anchoring a group in quest of its 18th OUA banner. Fourth-year athlete Hannah Woodhouse will be another key figure for the powerhouse Gryphons. Woodhouse was Guelph’s highest finisher at the 2018 event in London, coming in fifth.

The Gryphon men have a similar championship pedigree and come to Hamilton ranked No. 3 in U SPORTS. Guelph has earned the coveted OUA banner 20 times in the school’s history, with 16 of those victories coming since 1999. Fifth-year Fergus, ON native Mark Patton was on the most recent championship men’s team in 2017 and the standout Gryphon will be looking to add more medals to his collection. Like Jossinet, Patton has an OUA medal from every year of his distinguished career. He broke out in 2018 and narrowly missed out on the individual OUA gold when McMaster’s Turek came away with the win after a photo finish. A team and/or individual title would be the ideal send off for the talented veteran in his final provincial meet.

The Western Mustangs are one of the teams that can throw a wrench in the plans of the elite programs. There is strength on both the women’s and men’s sides, as each enter the provincial meet ranked No. 6 in U SPORTS. Fourth-year runner Kate Current leads a youthful squad of Western women, who took OUA bronze in 2018. The Cobourg, ON native has had plenty of success this season with a first-place finish at the Mustang Cross Country Intrasquad to go along with a fourth-place result at the Bill Salter Invitational.

The Mustang men were responsible for breaking up Guelph’s run of dominance with team gold in 2016 and the 2019 edition, featuring a heavy dose of youth, is ready to perform. The anchor is first-year man Marcel Steele. The talented rookie from St. Mary’s, ON won the Mustang Cross Country Intrasquad and came in seventh at the Loyola Cross Country Invitational. It’s notable that Steele had an excellent race on the very same course when he placed second in the recent Marauder Bayfront Open.

Podium finishes at the OUA Championships have been the norm for the Toronto Varsity Blues over the course of school history. And Toronto’s No. 8-ranked women, the silver medalists in 2017, anticipate a return after finishing fifth overall in 2018. There is no shortage of talent on the women’s side with fourth-year standout Lucia Stafford ready to make her 2019 cross-country debut after an impressive summer on the track. The two-time OUA All-star and former All-Canadian represented Canada at the FISU Universiade in Naples, Italy this past July.

Fellow fourth-year runner Jazz Shukla, an OUA All-star in 2016, returns to the team, while veterans Tanis Bolton and Katherine Lampard prepare for their final OUA Championships. Bolton earned OUA All-star honours with an 11th-place finish at last year’s provincial meet. Lampard brings plenty of experience to the Varsity Blues after securing an OUA All-star nod and All-Canadian honours in 2017 when she was an undergrad at Western.

The Toronto men came in fourth at the 2018 Championships, which was their best result since 2011. Fifth-year man Craig Klomp, who is no stranger to the big stage, will lead the way for the Varsity Blues after placing 14th overall at the meet in 2018 to earn OUA All-star status. Ben Devito, Sam Kinahan, and Cam Cira round out a veteran Toronto squad. Devito was the top Blues finisher at the Bayfront course two weeks ago when he placed 15th.

There was an impressive run of OUA banners won by the Windsor Lancers men from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. And the 2019 team comes into this year’s meet with a group of veteran runners intent on improving on last year’s sixth-place finish. The Lancers are No. 9 in the country thanks in part to the efforts of fourth-year athletes Joshua Martin and Nick D’Alessandro. Martin came in fourth at the recent Bayfront Invitational for his best finish of the season, while D’Alessandro has had multiple Top-20 finishes. Rookie Nicole LaRue will lead the Windsor women, who came in 10th at the OUA meet in 2018. The first-year Nursing student has been the Lancers’ best runner throughout the season after placing fourth at the Bayfront and 10th at the Western Invitational.

Waterloo rookie Izzy Thornton-Bott is expected to lead the Warrior women at the OUA Championships after a fantastic debut season. The native of Sydney, Australia took silver at the Bayfront with a time of 28:38, while also securing the gold medal at the 6km Buffalo Invitational in her first race of the year. The men will look to second-year athlete Felix Lawson. The Claremont, ON native had an impressive fourth-place finish at the Don Mills Open at home in Waterloo. Each of the Warrior squads placed ninth at the provincial meet in 2018 and hope to break into the top seven this year.

The Ryerson Rams will send six women runners to the OUA Championships, the most ever to run at the meet in school history. Third-year Etobicoke, ON native Rebecca Verlaan is the leader of that group, coming into the provincial race with a Top-10 finish at the Don Mills Open under her belt. Verlaan has unfortunately missed out on the OUA Championships the past two seasons due to injury so she is eager to produce a strong performance in her event debut. Mike Konstantopoulos is one of two Rams running on the men’s side. The fifth-year man from Toronto has been Ryerson’s top male finisher in each race this season, including producing a school-record time at the Bayfront race.

Meghan Sippel and Eric Gareau will lead a young Laurentian Voyageurs squad that finished fourth overall in the women’s team event and seventh on the men’s side. Sippel, in her third year, was Laurentian’s best female runner throughout the season, while the second-year Gareau won the race at the Don Mills Open earlier this season.

Third-year Burlington, ON native Rebekkah Pyle was a key contributor to the Lakehead Thunderwolves women’s seventh-place finish at the OUA Championships in 2018. The conference’s 2017 Female Rookie of the Year followed up a great debut by earning Second-team All-star honours last season, and Pyle hopes to build on that success in Hamilton. Lakehead’s men placed eighth in the OUA last season and second-year Thunder Bay, ON native Colin Warwick will be looking to lead his team back to the top 10 after a strong season.

The Laurier Golden Hawks women come to the OUA Championships with some momentum following a string of great results from veteran Lizzy Laurie. The fourth-year athlete from Kitchener, ON has produced arguably the best cross-country season in school history with three Top-5 finishes, including a win at the Bayfront and second-place showing at the Don Mills Open. Laurie’s fourth-year teammate Sydney Pattison has been equally solid. The Fergus, ON native has racked up three Top-7 results with her third-pace finish at the Bayfront marking the first podium finish of her career.

Also eyeing continued success from their key competitors this season is Nipissing. For the North Bay squad to fulfill their expectations this weekend, they’ll turn to a pair of Nordic skiers on the men’s side, as Jordan Cascagnette and Alex Maycock will tackle the snow-less course for the Lakers, who are aiming for a top-10 finish in the deep men’s field. After being crowned team champions at the Don Mills Open, meanwhile, the Nipissing women’s team, led by Stephanie Rigg who returns to running after a long break and has gotten faster each race this year, have their sights set on more success to cap off their campaign. They’ve taken major strides over past years and hope that trend continues on the Bayfront Park course as well in what has been an exciting stretch for the northern school.

“As a small team, we are looking forward to gaining more experience competing against the best in Ontario,” said Algoma Thunderbirds coach Cameron Wilson, meanwhile, and among those who will take advantage of the opportunity are second-year athletes Nick Keenan and Avery Litke.

The York Lions will enter a team in the OUA Championships for the first time several years. Carmen Krawczynski Gonzalez, a rookie from Toronto, ON, will be the featured runner after finishing ninth at the Don Mills Open, which was York’s first Top-10 result in a race since 2012.

Joining the aforementioned field will be the Brock Badgers and Trent Excalibur, rounding out the 16-team collection heading to Bayfront Park in Hamilton this Saturday.

The women’s 8km race will take off at 11:00am, to be followed by the men’s 10km race, which will leave the start line at 12:00pm.

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