Laurentian cross-country runners Jessie Nusselder,
Heidi Tuszkiewicz, Meghan Sippel, Jenny Bottomley,
Nicole Rich and Megan Crocker start their
race at the OUA Cross-Country Running Championships
at Malden Park in Windsor on Saturday, Oct.
28, 2017. Photo supplied
For a stretch of 15 to
20 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 8-km 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, BC, 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 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," said 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 6-km race distance
at both provincials and nationals to the new 8-km
version. "We ran one race at 7 km, 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 km,
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 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 32s, 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,
Randy Pascal's columns run regularly in The Star.