BURLINGTON, Ont. – You'd be hard pressed to find another team in Canadian collegiate sports that has been as dominant the past 10 years as the Guelph Gryphons cross-country team.
Heading into the 2015 OUA Cross Country Championship, hosted by the University of Waterloo, both the Gryphons men's and women's teams have won every OUA championship since 2005 and are once against ranked No. 1 in the CIS Top 10 entering competition at the Columbia Icefield on Saturday morning.
The Gyphons men's team will be led this weekend by a trio of runners as Aaron Hendrikx (Parkhill, Ont.), Tristan Woodfine (Cobden, Ont.) and Ben Workman (Kingston, Ont.) will by vying for the top spot on the podium that has now been vacated by last year's individual winner, former Guelph standout Ross Proudfoot.
Hendrikx, the 2013 CIS champion, won't have many places to move up if he hopes to take home gold as he finished 4th last year at the OUA championship. However, he will have to find a way to possibly overtake Woodfine who was last year's runner up at both the OUA and CIS championships. In his first year with the Gryphons, Workman has established himself as one of the top rookies in the conference and is coming off a 3rd place finish in a time of 22:44.6 at the OFSAA Cross Country championships last season at the same course.
The only team other than the Gryphons to capture the men's championship banner since 1994 is the No. 3 ranked Windsor Lancers, who will head to Waterloo, Ont. this weekend looking to put a halt to streak.
Last season, the Lancers finished second behind the Gryphons at the OUA championship but with Corey Bellemore (Windsor, Ont.) and Paul Janikowski (Villanova, Ont.) running once again for Windsor, the team from "The City of Roses" is a serious contender to capture the H.R. Little Cup for the first time since 2004.
Bellemore and Janikowski finished 8th and 13th, respectively, at the OUA championship last season, but both runners know that two top five finishes would go a long way towards bringing home team gold.
The McMaster Marauders take to the course at Columbia Icefield on Saturday as the No. 4 ranked team in the country and will be looking for their first men's cross country championship banner since they captured three straight from 1962-1964.
Last season, the Marauders had four top 20 finishes at the OUA championship and with two of those runners in the field again this weekend, the team from Hamilton, Ont. should not be overlooked.
Connor Darlington (Whitby, Ont.) finished 14th last year while Blair Morgan (Yarker, Ont.) came in 18th and both will be looking to crack the top 10 on Saturday. Both runners appear to be hitting their stride at the perfect time as in their team's final competition before the championship, the Queen's Invitational, Darlington finished on the podium in third, while Morgan finished just behind him in fourth place.
The No. 6 nationally-ranked Gaels will look to a pair of CIS All-Canadians to hopefully lead a Queen's squad to their first provincial title since 1989.
Alex Wilkie (Almonte, Ont.) placed 5th last year at the OUA championship and with two of the four runners who finished ahead of him not competing this time around, the 2014 OUA first-team all-star and CIS second-team all-Canadian appears poised for a potential podium finish. Wilkie, a third-year health sciences major, was named OUA and CIS Athlete of the Week earlier this season after he crossed the finish line at the Western Mustangs Invitational in a time of 24:35, a full ten seconds ahead of the second place finisher and establishing a new course record.
Another Gaels runner to keep an eye on this weekend is Jeff Archer (Kingston, Ont.) who was named a CIS second-team all-Canadian in 2011 and captured the 2014 Western International Invitational title.
Kevin Tree (Tottenham, Ont.) and the No. 8 Lakehead Thunderwolves will descend on Waterloo this weekend looking for a spot on the podium when the dust has finally settled Saturday afternoon.
Tree, a fourth-year kinesiology student-athlete, was named an OUA first-team all-star last year after placing 6th overall at the OUA championship and finished 21st overall at the CIS championship a couple weeks later. Earlier this season, Tree won the Queen's Open for a second consecutive year and represented his country as a member of Canada's national team in events in Columbia and China.
Among the runners representing the University of Toronto this weekend is Sasha Smart (Toronto, Ont.) who finished 1st for the Varsity Blues and 25th overall last year. Smart, a fourth-year kinesiology student-athlete, placed 11th overall at the Vic Matthews Open earlier this season.
Two runners to keep an eye on this weekend for the Laurier Golden Hawks are Adam Cornwall (St. Marys, Ont.) and Elliot De Lange (London, Ont.). Both have turned in top 10 finishes this season as Cornwall placed 6th at the Western Invitational, while De Lange completed the 10 km course at the New Balance Vic Matthew Invitational in a 8th place time of 32:29.7. Both runners are fifth-year seniors so expect them to leave it all out on a local course they know quite well.
Western Mustangs runner Chris Balestrini (London, Ont.) charges in to the OUA championship having place 5th at Queen's Invitational and 6th on his hometown course at Western International Invitational. From the purple ponies for the galloping Gee-Gees, the University of Ottawa will be led this weekend by Alex Berhe (Ottawa, Ont.), a third-year social sciences major who finished 37th at the the last OUA championship.
The Warriors will receive plenty of fan support from the hometown crowd as Adam Richardson (Ottawa, Ont.) leads Waterloo across the Columbia Icefield. Richardson finished 21st overall earlier this season at the Western International Invitational.
Suraj Sharma (Brampton, Ont.) was the top York Lions runner at all three regular-season meets with his best placement coming at the Don Mills Open where he finished 11th overall.
Brock runner Jelmer Vandenhadelkamp (Sundre, Alta.) will pace the Badgers this weekend having finished 23rd on the Icefield course earlier this season, his highest placement during the regular season.
Algoma Thunderbirds Zach Buchan (Orillia, Ont.) and Ryerson Rams Mike Park (Clinton, Ont.) will also be runners to keep an eye on this weekend. Buchan has several top place finishes in local and regional competitions in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., while Park has consistently been the Rams fastest competitor this season, with his best result coming at the Brock Open where he finished 6th.
On the women's side, like their male counterparts, the Guelph Gryphons are also ranked No. 1 and enter the championship as the team to beat having captured 11 consecutive titles and 15 of the past 18 OUA banners.
Last year's individual champion Heather Petrick has moved on but that shouldn't slow down the Gryphons as both Katrina Allison (Vancouver, B.C.) and Katelyn Ayers (Orillia, Ont.) are back in the fold for Guelph. Allison and Ayers finished 5th and 7th overall, respectively for the Gryphons last season and followed that up with two top five finishes at the CIS championship a couple weeks later. Ayers, who finished third in that race, came in 2nd at the Princeton Invitational earlier this year, while Allison left the Paul Short Run with a bronze medal.
The Gryphons have been able to sustain their dominance over the past decade thanks to strong recruiting. As one student-athlete graduates, another steps in to take their place. While they might be some particularly large shoes to fill, Guelph rookie Danielle Jossinet (Cobourg, Ont.) appears more than capable of handling the task. Jossinet was a double medalist at the Ontario High School championship last year and could make a strong run at the OUA Rookie of the Year award.
You can't blame No. 3 ranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues runner Gabriela Stafford (Toronto, Ont.) if even for a split second this week she has pictured standing atop the podium at the OUA championship. With the departure of Petrick, the top spot has been vacated and Stafford who finished second last season appears ready to take the next step. Earlier this season, the third-year psychology major, finished in 3rd place at the Greater Louisville Classic south of the border.
Another Blues runner to keep an eye on this weekend is Madeleine Kelly (Pembroke, Ont.). Kelly is looking to improve upon her 23rd place finish at last year's championship and having placed 4th at the Queen's Open and 5th at the Western International, she appears ready to do just that.
Toronto isn't the only OUA team ranked third nationally as the kids from Kingston, Ont. also occupy the third spot as they head to the "Tri-City" this weekend.
The Queen's Gaels will be led this weekend by a pair of podium threats in Julie-Anne Staehli (Lucknow, Ont.) and Clair Sumner (Calgary, Alta.). Staehli, a fourth-year arts & science student-athlete, is a two-time OUA first-team all-star after winning silver in 2013 and bronze last year. Sumner finished 6th at both the OUA and CIS championships and should be considered a serious podium contender heading into Saturday.
Madeline McDonald (Toronto, Ont.) and the No. 6 ranked McMaster Marauders will take to the Columbia Icefield course looking to improve upon a 8th place team finish at last year's OUA championship. McDonald, who was the Marauders top finisher last season, finished in 17th position but with a sixth place finish at Queen's earlier this season, the fourth-year kinesiology student-athlete, will be gunning for a top 10 finish this time around.
Rounding out the ranked teams heading into the championship on Saturday is the No. 10 ranked Laurentian Voyageurs.
Last year, the Voyageurs finished 6th overall as former Laurentian runner Emily Marcolini and current standout Katie Wismer (Sudbury, Ont.) finished back-to-back in 27th and 28th. Wismer has been on a tear this season, winning both her hometown Laurentian Open and the Don Mills Open, which was held on the same course as this weekend's race. At the Canisius Classic in Buffalo, NY, the fifth-year medical school student-athlete, finished 2nd overall and is peaking at the right time heading into the championship.
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees stampede into the OUA championship this weekend with the reigning OUA and CIS Rookie of the Year, Katie Phillips (Kleinburg, Ont.), in the stable. The second-year marketing student-athlete finished 29th at provincial championship last year and followed that up with a 27th result at CIS race a couple weeks later. Another runner to watch this weekend in the garnet and grey is Ruth Burrowes (Ottawa, Ont.), a fourth-year communications major, who is the top returning finisher from last year's race where she placed 22nd overall.
Last season, Western finished 2nd overall behind the powerhouse Gryphons, however, an injury plagued season has left the Mustangs reeling heading into the race. Katherine Lampard (Toronto, Ont.) has been the Mustangs most consistent runner this season, finishing 10th at Queen's and 13th at the local Western Invitational.
Another runner that could find herself onto the podium this weekend is Windsor Lancers OUA second-team all-star Stefanie Smith (London, Ont.). Smith finished 10th last year and followed that up with a 22nd place finish at the CIS championship. Earlier this year, the third-year human kinetics major captured the Western Invitational 5km individual title in a time of 17:26 in en route to the Lancers sixth place team finish.
Earlier this season on the course at the Columbia Icefield, Samantha McGuinness (Stratford, Ont.) was the host Waterloo Warriors top finisher, placing 8th overall in a time of 22:40, while Serena Gill (Ajax, Ont.) from the crosstown Laurier Golden Hawks finished 29th. Nina Sieh (Mississauga, Ont.) was also the York Lions top finisher at the race where she finished 20th overall, her best result of the season.
The pair of Alex Ratcliffe (Oakville, Ont.) and Annelise Martin (Mississauga, Ont.) will lead the Brock Badgers this weekend, as both finished in the top 20 earlier this season at the Don Mills Open. Ratcliffe finished the race in 16th, her best result of the year, while Martin finished just behind her in 18th.
Other runners to watch out for this season are Sarah Law from the Trent Excalibur, Algoma's Anna Stalin (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) and representing the Ryerson Rams, Rebecca Verlaan (Etibicoke, Ont.).
Racing begins on Saturday with the women's 6km race at 11:00am, with the men's 10km race beginning at noon.
Following the completion of the men's race, the awards ceremony will take place close to the finish line where OUA championship medals will be presented to the top male and female teams along with the top 3 finishers in each gender. OUA all-star awards are determined based on order with first-team all-stars placing 1st through 7th, followed by second-team all-stars 8th through 14th.