PREVIEW: Cross country gets set for U SPORTS Championship with Vikes Invitational
Competing against teams from Trinity Western, Thompson Rivers, MacEwan, Regina and Saskatchewan the Vikes will not only be able to gain race experience on the course where they will host the U SPORTS National Championship on Nov. 12 but to also see how they stack up against some top teams in the conference.
"We have been on the course a lot for training but the race is a completely different dynamic," said Vikes assistant coach Hillary Stellingwerff. "Hopefully this will serve to get everybody amped up and excited for the U SPORTS Championship."
Trying to capture their first national title since 2001 is a women's team that features a good mixture of youth and experience according to Stellingwerff.
"Alison Hooper is someone who has come back and she will be a key performer for us this year. We are excited to have her back and she is fitter than I have ever seen her so she is looking really strong. Her and Chloe Hegland are two keys for us."
Not only does the women's team have a good mixture of experience and youth but they also have solid team depth, with multiple athletes able to step up and perform well on any given day.
"The girls are in a big pack during training so that is a huge positive for us as a team because your fourth and fifth finishers at a championship are really what makes the team," said Stellingwerff. "Of course everybody is involved in scoring but it is really crucial to have strong finishes from your fourth and fifth runners, so to have them in a pack is really promising for us."
While the course will be familiar for the women's team, the distance will not. For the first time ever U SPORTS has changed the distance at the National Championships from 6 km to 8 km for the women's race and the Vikes Invitational will be run at that distance as well.
"For some of the girls on our team this will be great because they are endurance based, but it will really be a challenge for some of our other runners who are going to have to work a little harder," said Stellingwerff.
Missing three of their top four finishers from last season's National Championship race, the Vikes men will bring a youthful line up into the season.
"A lot of really talented youth, combined with some guys who are coming back stronger than ever this year," said Stellingwerff. "Jonathan Toombs is in great shape and he has really been learning from some senior athletes like Derrick Evans and Ben Weir. Josh Kozelj has also really been looking strong this year."
"They've been training well as a pack too, so anyone of the guys on the roster could end up making out U SPORTS line up which is exciting."
That youthful promise has already made itself evident in the young cross country season. At their first meet of the year the Vikes women finished first and the men second at the Charles Bowles Invitational.
Hooper was the top finisher on the Vikes, winning the women's race while Toombs led the Vikes men with a seventh place finish.