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Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017
Keep the legs churning and the program will come
2017-11-21
by Cambrian Varsity Athletics

Slowly, very very slowly, Cambrian cross-country coach Eric Leishman is building a program.

Much in the relatively recent tradition of both Meghan Juuti and Jack Kosmerly, Leishman has invested the time and energy in a big way, hopeful that his passion for the sport will transcend a roster that more often than not features more casual runners (at least “casual” by post-secondary standards) than those who remain committed to their training twelve months of the year.

Sure, there have been the recent “one offs”, OCAA titles captured in back to back years by Emily Marcolini and Mary Strain. But the fall of 2017 marked the first time in a while that the Golden Shield came ever so close to actually fielding a “team” of four to five runners who could contend with schools with a much larger base of student athletes.

The tail-end of the 2017 schedule and some interesting potential news for 2018 represent an interesting alignment of the stars that would appear to bode well for Leishman and his merry band of harriers. While this year’s CCAA Championship in Blainville (P.Q.) did not produce a Cambrian visit to the podium a la 2016, there was still a pair of top ten placements to celebrate, as both Strain (7th – 22:28) and Marcolini (10th – 22:40) kept themselves within eyesight of the lead pack throughout the 6 km women's race.

Throw in a solid performance from freshman Shawn Belanger (86th of 131 – 28:45 – 8 kms), representing Cambrian for the first time at nationals, and one can sense at least some reason for optimism on the part of Leishman. “I would give them all an “A” for what they were capable of on that day, given the circumstances of the season,” he said.

“They pretty much ran second for second what they ran all year. I wouldn’t say they unperformed. It was more a case of everyone just being much faster than expected.” As is so often the case in the world of cross-country running, trying to assess relative times is typically an exercise in frustration, given the variance in so many factors moving from one venue to the next.

“The dynamics of the course were totally different,” said Leishman. “You just can’t compare running on grass, like in the Sault (2016), which is a lot slower than running on a hard packed almost track-like surface. The surface itself (this year) just made it a lot faster.”

And to some extent, an element of race day luck is always helpful. “Emily lost her shoe in the first 50 metres, so she was playing catch-up from the word go,” said Leishman. “She went through the field extremely fast, basically shot through the field by four and a half kms. If everything had gone 100%, she would have been even further up.”

All in all, the news from nationals alone would have likely created a very upbeat environment for the former Cambrian Male Athlete of the Year, heading into the winter months. But it seems like more good news is still to come.

“I’m pretty sure that (Cambrian Athletic Director) Tim (Yu) is going to allow us to compete in indoor track this winter,” noted Leishman. “There is actually an unofficial OCAA indoor track championship.” It goes without saying that any kind of racing options often provide the carrot to be dangled directly in front of those who live with a need for speed.

“It’s exciting,” said Leishman. “This is a sport where you often need another reason to get motivated for the winter. Indoor track is definitely something that keeps things rolling into the summer.” In fact, he sees no reason why this addition to the varsity schedule, should it come to pass, could not serve as leverage to grow the running team even more.

“I would like to put the word out there that anyone can compete,” he said. “There’s distances from 800m to three kms. We might just interest a middle distance guy who is going to Cambrian to pick up his old spikes and run the 800m or something.”

Still with running, congratulations should be extended to coach Eric Leishman, who recently finished second at the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope. His time of 2:30.06 not only marked a major improvement for the native of Chapleau, but was second only to Torontonian Bonsa Gonfa, who captured the event in a time of 2:23:33.

In OCAA volleyball action on the weekend, the Cambrian Golden Shield women were dealt a tough four set loss to the Mohawk Mountaineers, beaten 24-26, 25-15, 18-25, 17-25. Jillian Vallier (12), Hayley Chisholm (11) and Isabelle Rivest (10) all reached double digits in kills, with Amanda Kring and Chisholm showing the way defensively with 12 digs apiece.

The Cambrian men showed a marked improvement from their last outing against Conestoga, despite being swept aside 15-25, 19-25, 25-27 by the Mountaineers. Unfortunately, Lucas Claveau (7 kills) was the only member of the Golden Shield able to muster much in the way of a consistent attack at the net for head coach Tom Sutton and company.

Both teams hit the road for southwestern Ontario this weekend, trading spikes on Saturday in Windsor with the Saint Clair Saints before making their way to London on Sunday, fighting it out with the Fanshawe Falcons.

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