AUS cross country athletes ready to toe the line

AUS cross country athletes ready to toe the line

STFX, Dalhousie primed to defend championships

By Corey LeBlanc

The race is on for the 2022 Subway Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Cross Country Championships.

Runners will toe the line to start the season this weekend on Saturday, September 17, at the STFX Invitational on the Antigonish campus course.

The men’s race will begin at noon, followed by the women’s at 1 p.m.

This season, the hometown X-Women—defending AUS title holders—will be seeking the program’s 10th conference crown. With last season’s victory, they snapped the Dalhousie Tigers streak of seven consecutive championships.

This season, there will be a new individual gold-medalist, with the 2021 champion—Siona Chisholm of STFX—now running for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the NCAA. The silver-medal finisher—Kelsey Hogan (Halifax, NS)—is the lone runner with an opportunity for consecutive podium finishes, with last season’s bronze medalist, Paige Chisholm of the UPEI Panthers, having exhausted her varsity eligibility.

On the men’s side, the Tigers—back-to-back banner winners—will be seeking the 21st title in the program’s rich history.

Andrew Peverill (Lower Sackville, NS) of the Saint Mary’s Huskies will be chasing down his third consecutive individual gold medal. Will Cox (Ottawa, ON) and Jacob Benoit (Windsor, NS), second and third place in 2021, respectively, are also back in the mix for a return to the podium.


Repeat on the radar

Noting that the X-Women are “really excited about this season,” head coach Eric Gillis says they "have a great young team.” Even without Chisholm, who the X-Women head coach says “will be missed,” he says, “I think that we are going to be a deeper team.”

The list of returning student-athletes for the white-and-blue includes Mairin Canning, who Gillis notes fashioned a “great performance”—a sixth-place finish in the 3,000-metre steeplechase—at the recent Canada Summer Games. Allie Sandluck (Thorburn, NS) and Eileen Benoit (Windsor, NS)—both set personal-best times in a variety of disciplines during the summer—are expected to play a “significant role.”

“We are going to do our best to translate those into strong cross-country times,” Gillis explains.

The same principle—building on summer success—applies to the freshman duo of Caden Lee (Richmond Hill) and Caroline Ash (Newmarket).

When it comes to repeating as AUS champions, Gillis says the X-Women “think we have the team to do it.”

One of the programs looking to wrestle gold away from STFX is Dalhousie, who head coach Rich Lehman says are “a year better, smarter and more experienced.” The Tigers return their top seven runners from last season, including Hogan.

“She was a huge surprise,” Lehman says, noting that won’t happen this season. “We expect Kelsey to have another strong year.”

Lauren Lowther (Antigonish, NS)—the top freshman in 2019—has “really brought it,” according to Lehman, who expects his student-athlete to have a shot at not only a conference all-star berth, but also a place on the podium.

“They are going to be really hard to beat,” the Dalhousie mentor says of STFX, when asked if his program will return to the top spot. And, he adds, fans—and their opponents—need to be aware of the UNB REDS, the third-place finishers last season.

“It is going to be super interesting,” Lehman says, while predicting a three-way battle for conference supremacy.

UNB's Chris Belof describes his REDS as a “great group,” one that he believes has “what it takes to get back on the podium.”

“I think that we are going to be pretty exciting and dynamic,” says Belhof, noting that they are going to miss  Natasha Vatcher and Hannah Haynes-MacDonald, who have graduated. Ivy Bialowas, who is expected to build on a strong 2021, will help lead a roster that has added a strong recruiting class—one that includes Eve Carreau (Truro, NS), Sierra Rodrigues (ON), Georgia Bernhard (ON) and Hallie May (BC).

“It is a great group,” Belof says of his first-year REDS. He adds, along with Bialowas, there are returning runners that he expects to “make the jump” and become key contributors to a deep team.

“I think we snuck up a lot on people,” says UPEI head coach Mike Peterson of the Panthers, who finished only four points behind UNB for a podium position last season. “It is not easy to lose a low stick like that; it will be tough to make up for it,” Peterson notes of Chisholm’s third-place finish last season. He explains the young Panthers will have to make up for that loss “collectively,” with each runner moving up a couple of spots in the individual standings.

“I really like the direction our team is heading in,” Peterson says.

Sophomores Grace and Katie Richard (Charlottetown, PE), who are coming off strong performances at the Canada Summer Games, are expected to lead the way for the young squad.

Although they are “definitely making strides,” Peterson notes that they are “not quite deep enough” to challenge for an AUS banner. Nevertheless, with a “good young core,” the Panthers have established the foundation for a bright future.

“We are turning the corner,” he offers, noting that UPEI will return its whole roster in 2023.

The Memorial Sea-Hawks (fifth), Acadia Axewomen (sixth) and Université de Moncton Aigles Bleues (seventh) rounded out the 2021 championship field of finishers.


Continue the roar

The Dalhousie men, who head coach Lehman says are a “few steps ahead of where we were this time of year [last season],” return the top seven runners from the 2021 championship victory.

Nick Robertson (Charlottetown, PE) and Daniel Rosen (Toronto, ON) are coming off what he describes as “sensational” summer seasons, which included personal-best times, while Harmon Grimshaw-Surette (Yarmouth, NS) and Alec Freeman (Halifax, NS), who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in last year’s championship meet are, as Lehman puts it, “another year older and wiser.”

“We have a really solid group,” he says.

Nevertheless, Lehman notes that if the Tigers have taken one step up, the REDS have taken two, describing their group of top-nine runners as “scary.”

“The X-Men are always ready to challenge,” he adds.

Cautioning that his Tigers are “not looking past” the AUS championships, he concedes that the focus for his charges is a top-five finish at U SPORTS nationals “two weeks later.”

STFX's Eric Gillis, who coaches the X-Men as well as the women, says, “It is probably our strongest recruiting class since I started coaching here.” That group includes three Torontonians: Liam McCullagh, Liam Patterson and Jack O’Connell, along with Luke MacDonald (Pictou, NS) and Owen Flemming (Halifax, NS).

Benoit—the 2021 individual silver medalist—and Luc Gallant (Wellington, PE) will be the veteran leaders.

“We are going to lean on them,” Gillis says of the duo. Describing the X-Men as “underdogs,” he offers that it will be a “tall order” to race to AUS gold.

He adds that leap-frogging the Tigers is "going to be a great challenge," but notes that his student-athletes are closer than they were last season to accomplishing that goal. “We have a fighting chance."

The focus for another of the contenders to unseat the Tigers—the REDS—is “continuing to be on the podium,” says head coach Belof.

“We have a core group, guys in their second and third seasons, that we are excited about,” he says, noting the “optimism” with his program. With “no big recruiting class,” Belof explains that runners eight-through-10 from last season will have the opportunity to break into UNB’s top-five group.

When it comes to leaders, he says the REDS will rely on Jared House (Red Deer, AB)—the 2021 AUS rookie of the year—along with returnees Will Boyle (Winnipeg, MB) and Chance Blackstone (Baddeck, NS).

“We are pretty open and honest,” Belof says of expectations, noting they understand that the X-Men and Tigers remain the teams to beat. “Our goal, again, is to finish on the podium, as high as we can.”

When it comes to the fourth-place finishers in 2021, the Saint Mary’s Huskies, head coach Kevin Heisler says he has a “small, but strong group of young men.”

“We expect Andrew to be even stronger than usual,” he offers of Peverill, who raced to a pair of gold medals at the Canada Summer Games. With the perennial all-star leading the way, Heisler adds, “We are looking forward to some strong performances.”

The returning trio of Rory McGarvey (Belleville, ON), Teagan Scott (Barrington, NS) and Joseph Stewart (Halifax, NS) will be counted on “to move up in the [individual] standings.”

“We are ready to compete,” Heisler says.

Shying away from predictions, he offers there are “always some surprises” in any sport season. “Hopefully, they will be pleasant ones [for us].”

Looking to catch the Huskies and the rest of the top contenders will be the Memorial Sea-Hawks, UPEI Panthers and Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus, who finished fifth through seventh, respectively, in the 2021 championship meet.

After the season opener at STFX, runners will compete at the Université de Moncton Invitational on Saturday, October 1.

The UPEI Panthers will host the 2022 Subway Atlantic University Sport Cross Country Championships on Saturday, October 29 in Charlottetown.

The U SPORTS nationals will also be on AUS soil, with Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s sharing hosting duties for the annual meet, which is scheduled for Saturday, November 12, at Point Pleasant Park.


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