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PREVIEW: Vikes set to welcome the best to Beacon Hill

The 2017 U SPORTS Cross Country Championships are slated for this Sunday in Victoria, as the nation's top university distance runners compete at Beacon Hill Park.

MEN'S LIVE RESULTS | WOMEN'S LIVE RESULTS

The University of Victoria is hosting the event – which also doubles as the Canada West conference championships – for the first time since 2007, which was also the last time the event travelled to Western Canada.

In terms of Canada West contenders this weekend, the Trinity Western Spartans enter the competition looking to repeat as conference champs on both the men's and women's side. While TWU is hoping to repeat as CW champs, the Spartans also have their sights set on moving up the national ladder, after finishing second (men's) and third overall (women's) respectively last season in the U SPORTS team results. TWU sat inside the U SPORTS Top 10 all season, sitting fifth in both polls released back on October 31.

A pair of fifth-year athletes in Declan White (men's) and Regan Yee (women's) anchor the Spartans. White finished second overall last season at nationals in Quebec City, while Yee came in fifth at the event. Both enter the weekend after strong results at the BC Provincial Championships in late October, as White finished seventh, and Yee came in fifth.
In terms of Canada West challengers, TWU's biggest competition in their pursuit of CW titles will likely come in the form of the host Vikes, who finished second (men's) and third (women's) in the CW team standings in 2016.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2016 CW XC YEAR IN REVIEW
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE BEACON HILL COURSE

Both Victoria teams enter the race after sitting inside the U SPORTS Top 10 all season, with both peaking at No. 7 in the last polls of the season.

The host Vikes were the last team to capture national gold in 2015, when the men topped the standings, while the on the women's side it's been more than a decade since the last CW team earned gold. That came in 2003 when the Calgary Dinos were CIS' cross country's top women's side.

Looking outside the conference, a couple of teams stand out in terms of competition, as the Laval Rouge et Or are the defending men's champs, while the Guelph Gryphons enter the weekend riding an unprecedented 12-year streak as women's national champions.

This year's race marks a new length for the women, who will be running two more kilometres than year's past. The women's four-lap race, which now stands at 8 km, gets started at 1 p.m. PST Sunday, before the men run five laps (10 km) beginning at 2 p.m. PST.

You can catch all the action by tuning into U SPORTS Live.

TEAM PREVIEWS

UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA GOLDEN BEARS & PANDAS
2016 CW finish: / (men's), 2nd (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish: / (men's), 6th (women's)
Last CW championship / total CW championships:  2004/ 12 (men's); 1997 / 2 (women's)
Last U SPORTS championship / total CW championships: 1980 / 1 (men's); highest finish in women's - 2nd in 1982 & 1998

Returning top finishers
Men: Kieran McDonald – 22nd U SPORTS
Women: Danae Keddie – 52nd U SPORTS

Number of competitors:
13 total (6 men, 7 women)

Key additions (name / eligibility / hometown)
Men:
Luke Hanson/ 1 / St. Albert, Alta.
Riley Stuermer/ 1 / St. Albert, Alta.
Women:
Paula Findlay/ 3 / Edmonton, Alta.
Ember Large/ 1 / Edmonton, Alta.
Jovana Tepavac/ 1 / Calgary, Alta.

Key performer:
Kieran McDonald
5th-year
Red Deer, Alta.
Looking to snap a 12-year Canada West title drought, the Golden Bears cross-country team will be leaning on fifth-year runner Kieran McDonald. McDonald is their top returning finisher from last year's championship, placing 22nd in 2016 with a time of 31:36.9. The second-team Canada West All-Star has also been the leader early this season, placing third in the Sled Dog Open in Saskatoon (26:32), and second at the Stewart Cup in Edmonton (32:45.83).

MACEWAN UNIVERSITY GRIFFINS
2016 CW finish: 5th (men's), 7th (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish: 21st (men's), 19th (women's)
Last CW championship / total CW championships: Highest finishes - 5th in 2014 and 2015 (women's); 5th 2016 (men's)
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: Highest finishes - 13th 2015 (women's); 20th 2015 (men's).

Returning top finishers
Men: Scott Kohlman – 116th USPORTS
Women: Hannah Leggatt – 24th USPORTS

Number of competitors: # total (# men, # women)
7 total - (2 men, 5 women)

Key additions (name / eligibility / hometown)
Men:
Aaron Boyle / 1 / Edmonton, Alta.
Women:
Abby Ackerman / 1 / Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
Jocelyn Leffers / 1 / Spruce Grove, Alta.

Key performer:
Hannah Leggatt
3rd-year
Edmonton, Alta.
In just her third season of Canada West competition, Leggatt already has a few accolades to her credit. In 2015, she finished 15th in the conference (39th USPORTS) in the women's 6K in a time of 22:13 and was named Canada West rookie of the year. In 2016, she finished sixth in the conference (24thUSPORTS) in a time of 22:46 and was named to the Canada West first-team all-star squad.
Leggatt also competes on MacEwan's indoor track team, which is in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference loop where she holds multiple school records and was named the ACAC's women's indoor track athlete of the year in 2017.

UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA BISONS
2016 CW finish: position: 4th (men's), 5th (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish: 12th (men's), 12th (women's)
Last CW championship / total CW championships: 1990-91 / 3 (men's), 2002-03 / 1 (women's)
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 1989-90 / 3 (men's), none / highest finish in women's - 2nd in 1983 and 2002

Returning top finisher
Men: Daniel Heschuk – 40th U SPORTS
Women: Rebekah Sass – 57th U SPORTS

Number of competitors: 14 total (7 men, 4 women)

Key additions
Men:
Deric Kornelson / 2 / Winnipeg, Man.
Abduselam Yussuf / 5 / Winnipeg, Man.
Women:
Shayna Giesbrecht / 2 / Winnipeg, MB
Belinda Guerra / 3 / Winnipeg, MB

Key performers:
Men:
Abduselam Yussuf
5th-year
Winnipeg, Man.
Fifth year Abduselam Yussuf started the 2017 with the top Bison time at their time trial and has now been the top Bison male runner in three of the four meets so far in his final season with the Herd. He has been the most consistent runner for Manitoba and is expected to compete for a Top 30 spot and be in the mix for a conference All-Star with a solid race at the nationals. Fourth year Daniel Heschuk, third year Simon Berube and fifth year Mathieu Desmarais has pushed Yussuf this season and the whole men's team is looking to crack the Top 10 at the 2017 championship with Yussuf leading the way.

Women:
Rebekah Sass
5th-year
Winnipeg, Man.
In her fifth and final year, Rebekah Sass has had a good battle with third year Julia Zrinyi for top Bison during the season as Sass has been top Bison in the team time trial and two of the four meets while Zrinyi was top in the other two races. Sass has the experience to finish her career in style as she was a past U SPORTS All-Canadian (2013), Canada West Rookie of the Year (2013) and three time CW All-Star (2013-15). The Winnipeg native will be looked at to run another conference all-star performance in a tough field and lead the Bison women's team, which could finish as high Top 10, for a fifth consecutive season at this year's nationals.

UNIVERSITY OF REGINA COUGARS
2016 CW finish: NT (men's), NT (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish: NT (men's), NT (women's)
Men
Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2009 / 1 (men's); highest finish in women's - 5th in 2011 & 2013
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: highest finishes - 4th in 2009 (men's), 15th in 2011 (women's)

Returning top finishers
Men: Adam Strueby – 13th U SPORTS
Women: Tianna Dodds – 139th at CIS (2015)

Number of competitors:
8 total (7 men, 1 woman)

Key performer:
Adam Strueby
5th-year
Regina, Sask.
The only fifth-year harrier on the Cougars and the U of R's top runner in every meet he's been in this season, Adam Strueby is unquestionably the leader of the team. Strueby finished in the top three overall in both of the team's 10K races in October, placing second at the Vikes Invitational in Victoria and finishing in third place just last weekend at the Stewart Cup in Edmonton. Strueby, a second-team All-Canadian last year, will be competing in his fifth and final national meet for the Cougars.

UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN HUSKIES
2016 CW finish: N/A (men's), 6th (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish: N/A (men's), 17th (women's)
Last CW championship / total CW championships): 1969 / 2 (men's); highest finish in women's - 2nd place four times (last 2011)
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 1969 / 1 (men's); highest finish in women's - 3rd in 1997

Returning top finisher
Women: Courtney Hufsmith – 127th, 25:28.1

Number of competitors:
1 total (Hufsmith)

Key performer:
Courtney Hufsmith
2nd-year
Saskatoon, SK
Courtney Hufsmith has been the top competitor for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in 2017. The second-year Business student from Saskatoon has crossed the finish line first in both the Cougar Trot in Regina and the Huskie-hosted Sled Dog Open (30:54) in Saskatoon. The Sled Dog finish was a personal best. She also had the top finish in the Stewart Cup crossing the finish line fourth.

THOMPSON RIVERS UNIVERSITY WOLFPACK
2016 CW finish: /
2016 U SPORTS finish: /
Last CW championship / total CW championships: /
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: /

Returning top finishers
Men: Conlan Sprickerhoff, 146th U SPORTS
Women: Rachel Lobay, 46th U SPORTS

Number of competitors:
10 total (5 men, 5 women)

Key additions (name / eligibility / hometown):
Men:
Troy Morgan / 1 / Hythe, Alta.
Josh Oglvie /1 / Kamloops, B.C.
Women:
Kendra Murray / 1 / Whitehorse, YT
Faryn Brown /3 / Kamloops, B.C.

Key performer:
Kendra Murray
1st-year
Whitehorse, YT

Murray—a nationally ranked cross country skier is new to running. But she has taken to the sport quickly. She was third at her first race and then finished 23rd at the BC Provincial Championships.

TRINITY WESTERN UNIVERSITY SPARTANS
2016 CW finish: 1st (men's), 1st (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish:  2nd (men's), 3rd (women's)
Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2016 / 1 (men's), 2016 / 4 (women's)
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: Highest finishes – 2nd in 2016 (men's) and 2015, 2014 (women's)
Number of competitors: 21 total (11 men, 10 women)

Returning top finishers
Men: Declan White – 2nd U SPORTS
Women: Regan Yee – 5th U SPORTS

Key Additions (name / eligibility / hometown):
Men:
Paul Buckingham / 1st / Langley, B.C.
Matt Thomson / 1st / Metchosin, B.C.
Women:
Bailey Haugan / 1st / Fort St. John, B.C.
Jouen Chang / 1st / Langley, B.C.
Melina Stokes / 1st / North Vancouver, B.C.

Key performer (Men):
Declan White
5th-year
South Surrey, B.C.
The men's team will once again be led by fifth-year Declan White (South Surrey, B.C.), who finished second overall at last year's national championships and became the first Spartans male athlete to win the Canada West individual title. Coming off an injury, he has started to find his rhythm once again this fall and most recently finished seventh at the BC Cross Country Championships. If he is able to find his form from last year, when he was at his best, White could once again challenge for the individual title.

Key performer (Women):
Regan Yee
5th-year
South Hazelton, B.C.
Regan Yee (South Hazelton, B.C.), who finished fifth overall at last year's U SPORTS championships and third amongst Canada West runners, is back after a strong season on the track that saw her compete at the Summer Universiade in the 1500m. She eased into the cross country season, but is once again looking like the Yee who has been so dominant with the Spartans. Her fifth-place finish at the BC Cross Country Championships is a clear statement she's on pace to once again push for a podium spot at the national championships.

UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA VIKES
2016 CW finish: 2nd (men's), 3rd (women's)
2016 U SPORTS finish: 6th (men's), 9th (women's)
Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2015 / 11 (men's), 2012 / 19 (women's)
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 2015 / 4 (men's), 2001 / 4 (women's)

Returning top finishers
Men: Ben Weir – 34th U SPORTS, 11th CW
Women: Chloe Hegland – 28th U SPORTS, 7th CW

Number of competitors:
18 total (10 men, 8 women)

Key additions (name / eligibility / hometown)
Men: Brandon Vail / 1st Year / Edmonton, Alta.
Women: Alison Hooper / 3rd Year / Victoria, B.C.

Key performer (Men):
Jonny Toombs
2nd-year
Sooke, B.C.
Toombs has been the top Vikes men's performer finishing sixth overall at the Vikes Invitational, the test event on the course for the U SPORTS cross country championship. Toombs finished in 31:54.80. Earlier in the year Toombs was the top Vike at the Charles Bowles Invitational in Oregon finishing seventh overall in 24:56.

Key performer (Women):
Alison Hooper
3rd-year
Victoria, B.C.
Alison Hooper returns to the Vikes to do her master's degree and her experience has paid off as the national team triathlete finished third at the October Vikes Invitational in the team's first 8-km race of the year in a time of 29:03.69. Earlier in the season Hooper finished first overall at the Charles Bowles Invitational in Oregon in a 6-km time of 17:34, while she finished 12th at the BC University Championship to help the Vikes win the provincial title.

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