Cross-country runs away with win

Things got a little more intimate than usual for Wilfrid Laurier University’s cross-country team this past weekend.

With a number of teams in Chicago last weekend for other engagements, Laurier and the University of Waterloo (UW) renewed familiarities as two of four universities taking part in the Don Mills Open at UW on Saturday.

Usually up against stiff competition like Western, Guelph and McMaster, the two cross-town rivals met head on in the Ontario University Athletics’ second open.

And emerging first overall from the kicked up gravel and dust was the underdog Laurier men’s squad.

“We had a couple guys injured so it’s great to get the win,” said team captain Brett Cameron.

A program that is learning to walk before it can run, Laurier’s cross-country teams are using an immediate measuring stick by juxtaposing themselves to their neighbours down University Ave. who won the same open last year.

“[One of the goals this year] was that we were really hoping to beat Waterloo, so it was encouraging to beat them this weekend but we still have OUAs and CIS [Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships] to look forward to.”

Head coach Peter Grinbergs is also the coach of the Tri-City Track Club in K-W, so a little vengeance on familiar faces was in the cards with runners competing for their schools as well as the area club.

Last year’s UW men’s squad finished ninth in the OUA while Laurier came in at 11th out of 16 teams.

Despite a few injuries to team stars Sohaib Ikram and Brent Meidinger, the team had Ikram’s brother Shoaib finish fourth overall with Jonathan Gascho and Ian Turnbull making tremendous strides since the start of the year, along with typical high performer Alex Garriock finishing 14th.

The women’s team’s performance was nothing to sneeze at either.

They finished seventh, five places behind Waterloo.

“We started off really strong together and there was a couple times where the girls were talking to each other; encouraging each other to move up,” said team co-captain Lindsay Wright. “Our teamwork was much better.”

The Don Mills Open takes place over very flat terrain, something the teams aren’t particularly used to.

“Speed definitely plays a role. It’s different because we train in Bechtel Park which is really hilly,” said Wright. “Lots of the girls really like trail races … dirt paths more than grass paths.”

The women’s team isn’t excluded from the injury bug. Co-captain Catherine Sukkau is out with a season-ending injury, effectively bringing to a close the fifth-year’s Laurier career. But she did show up on Saturday to provide her runners with advice.

Merely being on the team is a huge commitment, let alone the risk of injury factor, said Wright.

“We train all-year-round… We work our butts off all the time and we’re fully committed,” he explained.

“Catherine and I had a couple goals [heading into this year]. We would like to see the women’s team placed in the top 10 in the OUA and make nationals,” said Wright.

“We may not be a team many people have interest in now, but I think there will be in the next little while. You’ll see a huge improvement.”