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Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017
OUA Championships go well for Laurentian runners
2017-11-08
by Randy Pascal

For a stretch of fifteen to twenty minutes or so at the OUA Cross-Country Championships in Windsor, coaches Dick Moss and Darren Jermyn and the entire Laurentian women’s team were thinking they had broken through a previously unachievable barrier.

Unfortunately, a side scoreboard which showed the Voyageurs, as a team, sitting in fourth place, was actually displaying the results based on the runners’ placements at the halfway mark of the eight kilometer race. In the end, the local crew would settle for fifth, tying a team best performance that Laurentian athletes had also achieved in both 2015 and 2003.

This information glitch was just about the only thing that went wrong for the blue and gold on that day. “We just ran really, really well at the OUA’s (OUA Championships),” said Moss this week, as the team now prepares to travel to Victoria (B.C.) on the weekend, site of the 2017 U-Sports nationals. “It was just a really good race, both for the men and women.”

Back in 2015, the team was following the lead of the veteran troika of Katie Wismer, Michelle Kennedy and Marissa Lobert, all of whom have since graduated, giving way to an infusion of new talent. There was at least some uncertainty about what exactly 2017 would hold in store, in the mind of the man who has guided the program since the launch at the turn of the millennium.

“I had no idea, none,” said Moss, reflecting on his pre-season expectations for this particular gathering of young talent. “Heidi (Tuszkiewicz) was coming off a couple of years in the States, and I had no idea of where she was going to be. I thought it might take a year before she would adapt, but right away, she was running well.”

“And Jenny Bottomley is just an unknown,” Moss continued. “Two years ago, she was on a treadmill and came out. Last year, she did really well, but we had no idea how much she would improve again.” Suffice to say Tuszkiewicz and Bottomley exceeded expectations, with several others right on their heels.

The strength to this year’s team was the top to bottom scoring depth, a packed-in grouping that would see L.U. runners secure 18th place (Bottomley), 20th (Tuszkiewicz), 23rd (Megan Crocker), 33rd (Nicole Rich) and 37th (Jessie Nusselder). That aggregate total of 131 points at provincials was second best in program history, good enough to finish comfortably ahead of the sixth place Western Mustangs (151).

It would also mean a fifth straight visit to nationals for the L.U. women, though many on this year’s team are competing against the best in the country for the very first time. A Whitby native and transfer athlete from Campbell University in North Carolina, Tuszkiewicz admitted that key to her success this fall has been a coach-athlete relationship that has returned the joy she garnered, right through high school, from running.

“I knew that Laurentian would be a good place for me because my club coach at home knows Dick,” said the 20 year old Chemical Engineering student. “There was not really a lot of pressure on me, which was nice, because I had a lot of pressure on me the past two years, which caused a lot of stress.”

“I started running a lot faster than ever before – everything has worked out nicely,” Tuszkiewicz added. “I think it’s the coaches, the team, the whole environment. I just feel a lot less stressed out here, and I’m running and enjoying it again.”

If Tuszkiewicz followed a somewhat conventional path to her eventual success – Moss and company had attempted to recruit her back in 2015 as she graduated from All Saints High School – both Bottomley and Crocker constituted diamonds hid deeply in the rough.

“I didn’t really think cross-country was a sport until I came here,” acknowledged Crocker, whose first varsity experience would see her tryout, unsuccessfully, for the women’s soccer team in her first year in Sudbury. “I decided to run just to keep in shape,” stated the fourth year native of Mississauga. “In third year, I saw an improvement and this is kind of like a continuation of that.”

Like all Canadian university female cross country runners this year, the Voyageurs have had to adapt to the move from a six kilometer race distance at both provincials and nationals to the new eight kilometer version. “We ran one race at 7 kms, and in that one, we didn’t think it made that big a difference,” said Crocker, who spent the summer of 2017 in India, Mongolia and Korea.

“Moving to 8 kms, we didn’t really notice it. It felt like we had more time to get into a groove.” Moss, for one, is not about to alter the mental approach that has seen his team find a way to feel right at home duking it out with the heavy hitters in the province. “It’s a really competitive group that loves to race, they love to take on whoever is there,” he said.

“It’s a great attitude. When they get to these bigger races, they thrive on that. I’m hoping the same thing happens at nationals.” And while coach Darren Jermyn and the Laurentian men will not be making the cross country trip to British Columbia, the fact that they came up just three points short in only their third year of existence provides some credence to the belief that lightning nearly did strike twice for L.U. athletes at the OUA meet.

“I didn’t think we had a chance of qualifying for nationals,” Moss admitted. “But rookie Paul Sagriff has done some amazing things, Liam Passi ran low 32’s, all the guys ran well. Now we know that we are solid competitors for a national spot every year – and most of that (men’s) core is back next year.”

L.U. women’s team: Jenny Bottomley, Heidi Tuszkiewicz, Megan Crocker, Nicole Rich, Jessie Nusselder, Nicole Sartor, Meghan Sippel, Lindsay Robinson, Breanne Steven, Lyndsay Greasley, Kelsey Lefebvre, Karissa Merrylees

L.U. men’s team: Paul Sagriff, Liam Passi, Caleb Beland, Sam Delage, Jarod Milford, Gordie Chown, Jordan Burkitt, Mika Muinonen, Dylan McKevitt

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