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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
A historic showing, even by Lo-Ellen track standards
by Randy Pascal

Perhaps this is the next logical step on the evolution of the Lo-Ellen Park Knights' track and field dynasty.

Already entrenched as the class of the field on both a city (SDSSAA) and northern (NOSSA) basis, the Knights are beginning to flex a little muscle on a provincial scale.

Head coach Colin Ward had no trouble putting the 2018 edition of his squad into historic context following three days of competition this past weekend at York University in Toronto. “Short of going through the entire city results of one team versus another team ten years earlier, it's a little tricky, for sure,” he said.

“You sometimes wonder if it's us doing really well or the competition getting a little weaker, perhaps. So I think an easy way is to look towards the provincial results. Definitely, we've never had ten top eight performances (at OFSAA). We don't even get that as a city, generally. Even with our school records, there we're a ton that were broken, I know that for sure.”

“This team is, quite likely, the best we've ever had.”

In fact, SDSSAA athletes managed a total of twelve top-8 finishes over the course of the all-Ontario meet. Ten of those came courtesy of the Lo-Ellen Park Knights. Leading the way were a pair of medal winners, as midget girls thrower Lauren Fearn (discus - silver) and junior boys jumper Kurtis Wennerstrom (long jump - bronze) both ascended to the podium.

Only Amy Connelly (Confederation – JG – high jump - 5th), André Larocque (College Notre-Dame – JB – 3000m - 8th) and Christine Cousineau (CND – 800m ambulatory - 2nd of three runners) would crack the dominance of the Lo-Ellen track and field crew that is being recognized as the High School Team of the Decade Wednesday night at the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.

Certainly, coach Ward and company received some very pleasant surprises. Midget Jacob Schweyer bettered his high jump mark by a quarter meter between the time he captured the city crown (1.55m) and his fourth place finish at OFSAA (1.80m), while fellow freshman and teammate Kristen Mrozewski ran back to back personal best times in qualifying 7th in the 300m hurdles (47.28), and then racing to fourth in the final (46.58).

Rounding out the Lo-Ellen finalists were Chandyn Bachiu (MG – long jump – 7th), Caelen Mantle (MB – discus – 7th), Callum Bruser (SB – triple jump - 8th) and Will Fabbro (MP – pole vault – 8th). All of this only adds to the aura of a program that has now progressed to the point of requiring little in the way of a sales effort from the Knights' coaching staff and personnel.

“To be honest, I didn't make any announcements, and we didn't go down the halls telling kids they needed to try this,” said Ward. “We put together the Google classroom and word of mouth got this group out. Quite frankly, it was easier than it's ever been, putting it together. In this case, the kids are coming out on their own, they want to be a part of it.”

That may well be true for Lauren Fearn, though exactly what role she would play was not completely decided until the 11th hour. “I went out one day for a pole vault practice and J-P (Mayer - throw coach) was out, so I threw the shot put,” she said. “He asked me to try the discus. The early throws were very messy, but by the end of the day, I threw it 25 meters with the biggest wobble that you'll ever see in the discus.”

As a grade nine student, Fearn was one of several Knights experiencing the uniqueness of OFSAA track for the very first time. Unlike many who endure that adventure, the long-time Sudbury Lady Wolves talent did not succumb to the inevitable intimidation factor.

“In the relay, I was perfectly fine, because it was a no-stress environment,” noted Fearn, who joined forces with her Lo-Ellen midget teammates in running the 4 X 100m on day one Thursday. “We knew that we were going to get destroyed – we were seeded second last. My shot put was more stressful, because you could see the girls throwing super far. Even though I messed up my first throw on the discus, I was just a lot more calm.”

While there is no doubt that simply maintaining her ranking, province-wide, becomes tougher with every passing year, Fearn sees windows of growth. “I really want to learn to spin by the end of the summer, because every other person in the top eight, other than me, was spinning,” she said. “J-P would tell me that a good throw, not spinning, was better than a bad throw, spinning.”

If the same holds true for the jumping events, Kurtis Wennerstrom could not have pointed to a particularly “good” long jump in the weeks leading into OFSAA. Thankfully, the double finalist in midget competitions last year, who was nursing an early season injury this year, was not terribly concerned.

“I was really confident heading into OFSAA, but I was kind of a surprise for the other athletes, because I came into the long jump seeded 20th,” said Wennerstrom. “I had jumped 60 centimeters below what I jumped at OFSAA. I knew that I could do it if I worked hard enough, but a lot of people did not expect it from me.”

Truth be told, it was more than just simple hard work. A road trip training session in Cambridge with former local jump coach Jim Taylor also paid off, it would seem. “I completely changed my runway on both (long and triple jump),” stated Wennerstrom. “We changed my first phase of the runway to gain maximum velocity by the time I am taking off the board.”

“If you're running fastest right near the start (of the runway), you're wasting that speed. If you start with powerful strides, you build up your speed without tiring yourself, and you reach maximum velocity at the right time.”

And like so many Lo-Ellen athletes, the joy of healthy peer pressure never hurts in raising the bar for the team, overall. In the case of Wennerstrom, that would mean working out alongside Callum Bruser, the multi-talented senior who stars in both basketball and track and field.

"Me and Callum started training together starting this year, but we've kind of helped each other out since I was in grade nine," said Wennerstrom. "I knew that he was going to jump well at OFSAA. I knew that he had it in him and that he was confident."

Holding his talented team together, Ward is quick to deflect the praise to a host of assistant coaches and helping hands, including the likes of Neil Phipps, Serena San Cartier, Ryan Lafraniere, Dane MacVeigh, John Oberthier, Sara McIlraith, Sherry Green, Dick Moss, Darren Jermyn, J-P Mayer, Tom Black, Stephane Jacques, John Kosar and Daniel Lam-Sidun and others.

And though he acknowledged that the bulk of his top-end placements came courtesy of the midget and junior age brackets, Ward also admitted that the road only gets tougher from here on in.

"It's more difficult to perform at the senior level in any sport," he said. "At some point, the kids have to, perhaps not specialize to the point of exclusion, but they certainly need to do more to keep up, because others are doing more. There's a lot of people in this province chasing track and field and running dreams."

As for his role, Ward leans on a saying he read a little while back.

“The best leaders get the kids to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”

At the 2018 OFSAA Track & Field Championships in Toronto, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights did it, big time.

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