Andy Watson

On the picturesque backdrop of the Plains of Abraham, the University of Victoria Vikes women’s cross country team raced to a national silver medal and 19th Canada West title, while the men won a team bronze and were also crowned as Canada West champions, their 10th conference title in history, on a snowy, chilly day in Quebec City.

Rookie Ellen Pennock of Calgary led the way for the Vikes women at the 2011 CIS cross country championship held Saturday, winning the national individual bronze medal and CIS rookie of the year and first-team All-Canadian honours in a time of 18:14.2, just 14 seconds behind champion Genevieve Lalonde of Guelph and seven seconds behind runner-up Tamara Jewett of Toronto.

“Ellen was a pretty ridiculous performance in her first race,” said Vikes cross country coach Keith Butler. “She did not shy away from competing against these girls at all. She was easily the Canada West’s top finisher.”

“We’re very pleased with our performances today.”

Junior Stephanie Trenholm of Campbell, River, B.C., placed fifth with a time of 18:18.2 and was also named as a first-team All-Canadian. Senior Laura Mitic of Victoria finished 12th with a time of 18:40.5 to garner second-team All-Canadian honours.

Guelph’s women won the team title on the 5-km course with 31 points, while the Vikes were second with 87 ahead of third-place McMaster with 133 points.

Other Vikes competing were Grace Annear of Hampton, N.B.,(35th, 19:28.6), Shauna McInnis of Victoria (36th, 19:29.6) and Alicia Roske of Regina (71st, 20:08.9). Deidre Moran of Calgary did race but could not finish with a lingering hip injury which Butler said was a “big loss” for the program.

On the men’s side, Dylan Haight of Victoria finished in ninth in the CIS and was the Canada West champion and MVP with a time of 32:30.3. Cliff Childs of Kelowna, B.C., was in ninth overall with a time of 32:32.0, while Ryan Cassidy of Grande-Digue, N.B.,, the Canada West rookie of the year, placed 15th in a time of 33:00.1. Fellow freshman Jackson Bocksnick of Lethbridge, Alta., was 27th, clocking a time of 33:28.5. Cassidy’s performance was the second-best for a rookie in the nation, while Bocksnick was the fourth-best rookie in the CIS. Both earned first-team Canada West all-star honours.

Guelph runner Andrew Nixon won in a time of 31:42.8, while his teammate Alex Genest was second at 31:48.6.

“Dylan had his best university race by far,” Butler said. “He’s battled some injury to come through.”

UVic’s men scored 82 points to finish in third ahead of the Queen’s Gaels (98) in the men’s 10-km circuit. Guelph (20) finished first while Windsor (49) was in second in the CIS.

Other Vikes competing were Josh Clouthier of Nanaimo, B.C. (29th, 33:41.8), Doug Oxland of Nanaimo, B.C. (44th, 34:10.1) and Karl Robertson of Leduc, Alta. (71st, 35:01.3).

In the conference team standings, the UVic men scored 19 points in the Canada West to win its second straight and 10th overall conference title, ahead of Calgary (71 points) and Regina (81 points). The VIkes women were first in the Canada West with 25 points to earn the 19th title in team history while a much improved Saskatchewan team placed second with 44, and Calgary came in third in the conference with 80 points.

Butler said the Vikes teams performed admirably.

“Steph was in fifth then fell back to eight and then used her finishing ability to move back into fifth spot,”: said Butler. “Some of our other girls went a bit too hard early and I’d suggest they went out too fast, but Ellen was outstanding. She was in third most of the race and even was in second for a short time before she got caught with 400 metres to go.”

“To finish second was very pleasing for (women’s head coach) Brent (Fougner) and the team as they were expected by many to finish third coming in and were ranked third all season.”

All five UVic men’s scorers finished in the Top 29.

“None of the guys predicted we’d get to 82,” said Butler, head coach of the men’s cross country program, noting they scored 149 points, with the total based on the combined total of all Top 5 placings. This year showed a significant improvement for both UVic teams.

“We’re making great strides with our program,” Butler said. “The men’s race was a controlled pace for three and a half kilometres and then the lead group put the hammer down on the second long uphill. Dylan and Cliff were kind of in the second group, but our rookies Ryan and Jackson stayed with the first group. Eventually the second group caught up.

“We see the progression and are now solidly demonstrating strong results in the final meet,” Butler said. “Guelph is still the front runner and we closed the gap this year and kept pursuing.”

Haight said he was very pleased with his individual performance but more importantly with the overall Vikes success with both teams.

“Everything came together,” Haight said. “We did well. The team got me excited to race. To be honest, I was more focussed on the team aspect than me.”

“It wasn’t crazy fast and then the group broke away,” Haight recalled. “Cliff and I caught up… It was a great coursse, the perfect course for me. There were hardly any moments where it was flat. And with the snow, going downhills everyone was sliding around which is perfect for me because I’m a digger.”