CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: AUS Cross Country Championships set to go Saturday

CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: AUS Cross Country Championships set to go Saturday

STFX, Dalhousie to defend titles


By Corey LeBlanc


HALIFAX – The 2023 Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Cross Country Championships will take centre stage on Saturday, Oct. 28, hosted by the Saint Mary's Huskies at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax.

The women's 8-kilometre race is scheduled for 12 p.m., while the men's 8km will start at 1 p.m.

The STFX X-Women are the two-time defending champions in the women's race, while the Dalhousie Tigers also captured top spot on the men's side in 2022 and 2021.

AUS runners wrapped up the fall season on Oct. 7 at the UNB Invitational in Fredericton - an interlock meet that included RSEQ universities.

On the women's side, the X-Women finished second with the UNB Reds and Dalhousie Tigers finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

In the competitive race with a deep field, STFX's Allie Sandluck (Thorburn, NS) – the defending conference individual women's champion – finished fifth, while Emily Doucet (Aldouane, NB) of the Reds and Eileen Benoit (Windsor, NS) of the X-Women placed sixth and seventh, respectively.

On the men's side, UNB raced to a silver-medal finish, while STFX and Dalhousie placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

Jared Howse (Red Deer, AB) of the Reds, in fourth, was the first AUS men's finisher, with Dal's Jacob Benoit (Windsor, NS), finishing sixth, and STFX's Jack O'Connell (Toronto, ON) ninth; they rounded out the top-three from the conference.

In the AUS season opener – the STFX Invitational on the Antigonish campus Sept. 9 – Benoit raced to first at his alma mater, followed by a pair of White and Blue runners: O'Connell and Joel Gallant (Wellington, PE), who placed second and third, respectively.

The X-Men captured first place, on their home course, followed by the Tigers and Huskies.

On the women's side, the trio of Mairin Canning (Antigonish, NS) – who won silver in the 2022 AUS championship – Sandluck and Benoit, who finished fourth in last year's championship meet – swept the podium spots.

The UPEI Panthers and Acadia Axewomen finished second and third, respectively.

Sandwiched between the UNB and STFX meets, runners toed the line at the Acadia Invitational in Wolfville on Sept. 23.

STFX's Caroline Ash (Newmarket, ON) raced to first place, followed by Dal's Danielle Keefe (Fredericton, NB) and Moncton's Sophie Black in the women's run.

On the team side, Dalhouse won top spot, followed by STFX and Acadia.

On the men's side, Benoit captured his second consecutive victory, followed by Saint Mary's Rory McGarvey (Belleville, ON) and Dal's Aidan Goslett (Toronto, ON).

The Tigers, X-Men and Memorial Sea-Hawks were the top-three finishers.


X ready to defend title


Turning to the race for conference supremacy, on the women's side, STFX head coach Eric Gillis said his X-Women are "healthy and ready to go."

"We are prepared to defend our championship," he added.

That doesn't mean that they are taking anything for granted entering the final meet.

"We know it is not going to be easy – we are going up against some strong competition," Gillis added.

Sandluck, who will be defending her individual crown, Canning and Benoit will lead a strong top-seven for the White and Blue.

Gillis said the key for the X-Women will be to "execute our race," with an eye towards improving their results (including times) – individually and collectively – from last season.

When it comes to Dalhousie – last season's runners-up – head coach Rich Lehman said that making a move to the top spot on the AUS podium is a big ask; not only because they have such a young roster, but also they are up against the experience and talent of the defending champion X-Women; not to mention the ability of the other programs vying for a place in the top-three, such as UNB.

"You are not going to see them have a bad race," he offered of the top runners for STFX.

As for the top-seven runners for the Tigers, Lehman noted that three are "true freshmen," while another is in her first year of eligibility.

With that in mind, the Dalhousie mentor pointed out his women's team is quite a bit ahead of where he thought they would be at this time of the 2023 campaign. At the start of the year, he said he thought that winning silver would be a long shot, but now he believes it is a realistic goal.

UNB – the bronze medalists in 2022 – have been tabbed as prime candidates for a move up the podium.

"We are really excited and ready for this weekend," UNB head coach Chris Belof offered of his women's and men's teams.

Doucet, who finished sixth in the UNB Invitational, and Hilary Bishop (Milton, ON), who garnered top-10 spots at STFX (seventh) and Acadia (fifth), should be key contributors to any Reds' title aspirations. 

Belof noted that focusing on "process versus outcome has been the key for our group."

Leading the way for the Reds, on the men's side, will be Howse, who raced to silver in 2022. This season, he crossed the finish line fourth at the UNB Invitational.

Noting that the Dalhousie men's side is not as deep as it has been in previous seasons, Lehman suggested that his top five runners would have to be close to perfect to challenge for gold.

Like the women, he believes the Dal men will be in the hunt for second and third place.

Benoit – who raced to third in last season's championship meet as a member of the X-Men – will be a key runner for the Tigers. This year, he raced to gold at the STFX and Acadia meets, while finishing sixth at the UNB interlock race. 

Gillis described his X-Men as "hungry" heading into this weekend, noting the roster's strong performance in the interlock competition at UNB, where they finished fifth.

He expects the Gallant brothers – Joel and Luc – along with O'Connell, who has "stepped up" and become the X-Men's top runner, to lead the charge.

Although the X-Men continue to see themselves as "underdogs," Gillis said they believe that they have a great shot at winning the conference banner.

Noting that AUS cross country is "as deep as it has ever been," Lehman offered that the bronze medal teams – in both the women's and men's races – would be the strongest third-place finishers in the history of the conference.

"It has been a great season for all the conference teams – really strong programs across the board, especially Dalhousie and STFX," Belof added.

Both races will be streamed on AUStv.

The 2023 U SPORTS Cross Country Championships – hosted by the Western University Mustangs - are scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Thames Valley Golf Course in London, Ontario.



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