The University of Victoria Vikes men’s and women’s cross country teams are gearing up to face the best teams from across Canada at the U SPORTS National Championships on Nov. 10 in Kingston, Ont.
Both teams are currently ranked No. 7 in the U SPORTS Top 10 polls.
In this event, the athletes will be competing not only for the U SPORTS Championship title but their times will be tallied to determine the Canada West conference champion as well. The women’s event is in its second year of being 8- km race, while the men will run 10-km.
In 2017, the Vikes women claimed their first Canada West title in five years on home soil at Beacon Hill in Victoria. The Canada West champions were also fourth overall in U SPORTS standings, just behind bronze medalists Laval.
“On the women’s side, it is our goal to defend our 2017 Canada West title from last year,” said Vikes coach Brent Fougner, who was also last season’s Canada West Women’s Coach of the Year. “On the men’s side we will be in tough competition with Calgary, Trinity Western and UBC to try and claim the Canada West banner for 2018 but we are confident with how our runners have performed so far this season.”
The Vikes men finished last year with a Canada West silver medal and finished seventh in U SPORTS standings. This season depth has already proven to be the team’s strength ahead of the 2018 championships hosted by Queen’s. Through the first three events of the season, a pack of Vikes men have consistently finished close together.
“We’ve got such a blue collar team this year. In every race they grind it out and work so hard,” commented Fougner. “We are really pushing and training for our guys to run as a pack so they can support each other throughout a race. There is a benefit to packing your guys in amongst the top 20-30 finishers, it will limit other teams’ chance to displace us in the team standings.”
Fourth-year Vike Alexander Nemethy has been the one of the top runners on the men’s side so far. Nemethy’s fifth-place finish at the Vikes Invitational led Victoria to a first-place team finish, while teammates Derrick Evans, Josh Kozelj, Jonny Toombs were right behind Nemethy finishing sixth to eighth, respectively. Victoria’s performance at the Vikes Invitational displayed their ability to run as a group effectively.
“Our group has been training very well,” said cross country assistant coach and two-time Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff. “(The Vikes women) are a smaller team but we are filled with reliable and consistent runners. We always expect Alison and Chloe to be our leaders but now we are looking for all our athletes to put down some strong times if we want to compete with the top schools.”
Irvine has been the top finisher in all three of the events the Vikes have participated in so far this year, highlighted by a first-place finish at the Vikes Invitational in October. The Vikes Invitational gave Canada West schools opportunities to stack up against the five-time NAIA champions, UBC, who will compete in U SPORTS nationals this year for the first time.
Fifth year Hegland has been right behind Irvine in all three events this season. Hegland finished in second place behind Irvine at the Vikes Invitational to go along with an 11thplace finish at the B.C. Championships in late October.
“Alison and Chloe have displayed tremendous leadership so far this year with many of our younger athletes starting to bridge that gap and set up their performances,” added Stellingwerff. “We will be relying on our third, fourth and fifth place runners to pack up like our men’s team does so well, closing that gap between themselves and Alison and Chloe.”
The Vikes women’s roster will also feature 2017 Canada West Second Team All-Star Chloe Hewitt and racing in their first national championship first year Caitlin Mann, second year Georgia Ginther. Fourth-year Vike Andie Wood and fourth-year transfer Caitlin Vail round out the women’s roster.