Gryphons, Gaels aiming to add to impressive running resumes with continued championship success

Gryphons, Gaels aiming to add to impressive running resumes with continued championship success

London, Ont. – There is no shortage of talented runners in the OUA, and they will once again converge to race their way atop the provincial podium at the Thames Valley Golf Club. The Guelph Gryphons men and Queen’s Gaels women did just that to claim the gold-medal spots a year ago, and as they unleash their loaded rosters amidst the 2018 field, they’ll look to add to their already impressive resumes with even more banner season bests.

2018 OUA Cross Country Championships Fan Guide

When thinking about cross country in the OUA, it is hard to ignore everything that the Guelph Gryphons have done. Their teams have combined for 37 banners in the program’s history, including a string of recent success that is unparalleled on the course. After having their 11-year winning streak snapped in 2016, the Gryphons men’s team took back to the banner last year; a feat that the women’s team has their sights set on this year after seeing their 13-year run end at the hands of the Gaels.

Danielle Jossinet (Cobourg, Ont.) will be a key part in the team’s quest for gold-medal redemption this season and comes in with plenty of experience on the biggest stages. The second-team all-star in 2017 placed eighth at last year’s event and 10th at nationals, before taking on some more tough competition this year at the Texas A&M Meet, where she placed 29th out of 215 runners. Young athletes like Emma Hubbard (Calgary, Alta.) and Sadie-Jane Hickson (Oakwood, Ont.) have really stepped up to continue Guelph’s championship pedigree, which will be a big asset come Saturday.

Like the women, the men’s team boasts a long resume of success, but the great team may be even greater this season when you consider who is doing much of the damage. After seeing OUA MVP Connor Black (Forest, Ont.) make waves during his entire Gryphons career, crossing first to claim individual gold a year ago at the provincial finale, it is Mark Patton (Fergus, Ont.) who is finding another gear this year.

Patton, who was a middle-distance runner and build his legs up for cross country, has broken through this year and even finished ahead of Black in every race. The fourth-year runner set a course record at the Western Invitational (24:15) and placed sixth overall to help Guelph win the Arturo Barrios Invitational at Texas A&M. Further depth from talented runners like Mitch Ubene (Tecumseh, Ont.), Ben Workman (Kingston, Ont.), and Mostafa Elkurdy (Calgary, Alta.) once again make the top-ranked Gryphons a gold-medal favourite.

The Queen’s Gaels added to the women’s program titles last year, behind a strong team effort that saw them claim three of the first five spots. And after watching her older sister earn last year’s MVP, Brogan MacDougall (Kingston, Ont.) will hope to build on the family’s recipe for success on Saturday to give her Gaels the bragging rights before hosting the country’s best in the U SPORTS Championships. MacDougall has taken the OUA by storm so far this season, winning the Queen’s Invitational in Kingston and finishing firth in the gold division race at the Paul Short Run Invitational; an event that features many NCAA and All-American runners.

Despite their strong third-place finish from a year ago and consistent overall success, it has been nearly 30 years since they’ve scored a provincial banner. But like the women’s team, they would like nothing more than to head home as champions before the national spotlight is placed on Kingston in November. For the Gaels to find success, Mitchell de Lange (Utopia, Ont.) will need to be his usual self; a capacity that saw him represent Queen’s well at their home event and break through with a third-place finish at the Western Invitational.

Placing just ahead of the Gaels last year, the McMaster Marauders will be a force to be reckoned with once again in their quest for gold. Backed by a No. 2 national rank and a roster filled with threats to cross the finish line first, the Marauders boast a strong pack at the front end.

Among those who are part of this pack are Sergio Raez Villanueva (Mississauga, Ont.) and Max Turek (Whitby, Ont.). The former is the reigning McMaster Male Athlete of the Year and has twice provided the school’s second score – placing seventh at the Bill Salter Invitational and 15th at the Loyal Lakefront Invitational. Turek, meanwhile, enters as the top rookie finisher from a year ago and has continued his strong running into this sophomore year, finishing seventh against NCAA Division I competition in Chicago and snagging silver at McMaster’s Marauders Bayfront Open.

Finishing fourth overall a year ago, meanwhile, it has been a rebuilding year for the Marauders women’s team. Despite this, they have still made the national ranks this season, and will assuredly pose a threat once again to reach the podium. Veterans Kristen Kuhn (Ridgeway, Ont.), Erin Snelvgrove (Jordan Station, Ont.), and Rachel Faulds (Frankford, Ont.) should be expected to provide leading scores.

A second-place finish from the Varsity Blues women a year ago catapulted them into a strong showing at nationals, wherein they claimed the U SPORTS banner. While top-finisher Sasha Gollish no longer headlines the roster, there is plenty of top-talent to guide the No. 9 Toronto squad into medal contention once again. Among those aiming for the front of the pack is Jazz Shukla (Toronto, Ont.). The 2016 all-star, along with sophomore standout Katherine Marshall (Ottawa, Ont.), have put forth strong campaigns for Toronto and it is a sure bet that they’ll be eyeing all-star status this weekend.

For the Blues men, it is Rob Lawand (Toronto, Ont.) that takes the reigns, and his 2017 all-star results back up his championship pedigree. The veteran runner has seen continued success this season, with his most recent result coming in the form of a top-10 spot at the Marauder Bayfront Open. A 13th-place finish at the Western Invitational and a 14th-place result in Chicago have also rounded out a top-tier campaign for the Blues.

It wasn’t quite meant to be for the Mustangs at last year’s event, as the men feel just shy of the podium top finish fourth. But with six championships under their belt, including one from as recently as 2016, the fifth-ranked purple ponies will be eyeing an opportunity to reclaim provincial gold on home turf.

Spearheading their efforts is Jack Sheffar (London, Ont.), who has seen some solid finishes throughout the year in both the 8km and 10km distances. The fourth-year runner placed seventh individually at the 2018 Bill Salter Western Invitational in London, earning a time of 24:34 in the 8km race. He placed just outside the top-20 in the same distance in Chicago at the Loyola Lake Front Invitational, but ramped things up to claim silver at the Marauder Bayfront Open this year. He enters with championship experience – crossing in 16th place in the 10km at last year’s championship – and his winning pedigree should give the whole Mustangs team a boost.

While the Mustangs women’s team has racked up more championships overall, they haven’t found that type of success in two decades. The No. 5 Western squad, however, will have a great chance to turn that fate around with Kristina Popadich (Toronto, Ont.) leading the way. With a knack for finding the front pack, Popadich has put up top results for the ‘Stangs this year, including first place finishes at Marauder Bayfront Open and the Bill Salter Invitational, crossing the line with a 1:20 and 0:31 margins of victory, respectively, and setting a new course record for both. She crossed in second place at last year’s championship, and in this talented group of contenders, Popadich will certainly be running for gold on Saturday.

Rounding at the top five on the men’s side from a year ago were the Lancers, but this year’s team will look very different from last year’s Windsor squad. Even though they are sporting four new faces, however, the team is hoping to sustain their top-10 ranking with a good showing this weekend, backed by a top performance from their captain. Andrew Nebel (Windsor, Ont.) has been the Lancers’ best runner all year, and even has international experience at the 2017 FISU Cross Country Championships to buoy his quest for the podium.

In a somewhat similar boat are the Windsor women, who send a team comprised of five rookies. Although short on experience, the team is deep in enthusiasm and will look to translate that into improvement over last year’s ninth-place result. Like the men, they’ll be turning to team captain and top performer Rachel Crawley (Halifax, N.S.), as one of two veterans on the team, to lead the way on Saturday.

Almost matching the Windsor results last year – although in reverse order – are the Laurentian Voyageurs, who come in as the reigning fifth-place finishers on the women’s side and eighth-place for the men. Improvement will be the goal for the Voyageurs in London, and they’ll turn to Jenny Bottomley (Newmarket, Ont.) and Paul Sagriff (Kingston, Ont.) to do some damage therein. The former placed fourth at Geneseo, while also turning in a top-20 performance at the Marauder Bayfront Open, with the latter earning top spot and a top-10 finish at those same events.

The Golden Hawks will be looking to fly high on the Thames Valley course this weekend to improve on their results from a year ago and remain a top-10 finisher. A veteran on the men’s side, Joe Sheridan (Waterloo, Ont.) finished a career-best 25th a year ago for Laurier and will look to make this the third straight championship at which he is the school’s top finisher.

Sydney Pattison (Rockwood, Ont.) has been as solid as they come for the women’s team this season, posting the best year of her Laurier career. She took home three top-10 finishes (sixth at Queen’s Invitational, fourth at Don Mills Open, and eighth at McMaster Invitational), while also crossing the line in 11th to headline Laurier’s best ever finish at the Western Invitational. Overall, Laurier women’s team is in the midst of their best season in team history, and their very deep roster, which also includes runners such as Lizzy Laurie (Kitchener, Ont.) and Sarah Cranmer-Byng (Mississauga, Ont.), boasts top-5 potential this weekend.

Not far down the road, the Waterloo Warriors are turning to Stephanie Ryall (Hamilton, Ont.) and Chris Moore (Toronto, Ont.) to head up their teams’ respective recipes for running success. Ryall was the school’s top finisher at the Don Mills Open, finishing sixth overall, and at the McMaster Open after her best 8km time of the season (30:17) earned her a 16th-place finish. Moore, meanwhile, was right at home at the Waterloo event, topping the podium was a first-place time of 25:59.6 in the 8km race.  

It was a strong debut a year ago for Rebekkah Pyle (Burlington, Ont.), as she was the first to cross the line in the 2017 first-year field, and after earning Rookie of the Year honours for that performance, will have her eyes set on even more this time around. Looking to mirror Pyle’s success from a year ago in his first kick at the championship can, meanwhile, is Jonathan Stoppa (Barry’s Bay, Ont.), who will aim to translate his OFSAA success – placing 4th in 2017 at the Senior Boys event – into a race to remember in his banner season debut.

Ones to watch for fellow northern squad Nipissing, meanwhile, who placed 12th in both the women’s and men’s docket a year ago, are Jennifer Leroy (London, Ont.) and Teagan Retty (Perth, Ont.) The second-year and fourth-year runners will anchor the northern school’s aspirations for improved results; something their fellow competitors from Ryerson are searching for on Saturday as well.

Now in the program’s fourth season, the Rams are looking to turn the tables on last year’s results as they continue to build and develop their talent. A good mix of experienced veterans and talented rookies sets the team up nicely for a strong finish at the OUA Championships this year, with plenty of news-worthy individual results leading up to this final weekend.

Among those who have earned these results is Sylvie Antoun (Beirut, Lebanon), who set a new Rams women’s 8km record time this year to best her own mark from last year’s banner season performance, and Jacob Banks (Kemptville, Ont.), a road race competitor who has improved race-over-race this season with his tenacity, drive, and talent. 

The York Lions are seeking experience on Saturday, but will turn to Ali Ghadghoni (Richmond Hill, Ont.) to lead the charge. Ghadghoni led the way for the men’s team at the Don Mills Open, placing ninth (27:02) in the 8km race. After a 50th place finish a year ago, the third-year runner will be looking to rise up the leaderboard in the 2018 edition.

Rounding out the field of runners are those from the Algoma Thunderbirds, who turn to both experienced and first-time runners, including fourth-years Marissa Ditoro (Omaha, NE) and Lucia Luciani (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) and rookie Nick Keenan; the Brock Badgers, who after seeing their men’s team finish 10th overall last year, will have four first-years toeing the start line for the first time; and the Trent Excalibur, who will turn to runners like Keely Clements and Matt Melo to help them rise the ranks.

The 8km women’s race will kick off the day’s festivities at the Thames Valley Golf Club in London, Ont. at 11:00am, which will be followed up by the men’s 10km race, which will go off at 12:00pm