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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Sunday, Jun. 16, 2019
L.U. X-C crew aim to qualify two teams for nationals
by Randy Pascal

The Laurentian University cross-country faithful have gathered for one of their final workouts prior to the OUA Championships, this Saturday in London, and one can feel the excitement in the air.

True, you can also feel the lingering dampness and cold that has been prevalent, seemingly daily, dating back to mid-September, but the aroma of youthful anticipation helps to dissipate the negative.

For the first time since the reintroduction of the men's program some four years ago, the Voyageurs are confident in the belief that they can qualify teams of both genders to the national championships November 10th in Kingston.

In order to do so, they will need to count on productivity from an extremely varied collection of young athletes, mixing in hometown heroes with those that we are hoping will remain in Sudbury after their post-secondary days.

While it is pretty much a given that veteran Jenny Bottomley will show the way for the women, things get interesting, after that. A 21 year-old fourth year nursing student from Waterloo, Breanne Steven has enjoyed something of a breakthrough season this fall, ranking fourth on the team in their most recent race in Hamilton. Hers is clearly a story of perseverance.

“In grade 12, I had kind of a breakthrough year, and then decided that I didn't want to let it go, at university,” she said. “But then in the summer, I ended up hurting my knee, so I red-shirted my first year. Things didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to work out.”

Unfortunately, it was a somewhat similar story this time last year. “I was training a lot throughout this past summer, because I was injured a lot of last year,” said Steven. “I didn't even make it through the whole season. This year, I don't really have anything, injury-wise, so things are finally coming together.”

While the loss of Heidi Tuszkiewicz, to injury, has hurt the team's hopes for a top four finish, a strong showing from veterans Megan Crocker, Nicole Rich, Jessie Nusselder and freshmen Pascale Gendron and Sarah Thacheray would bode well for coach Dick Moss and company, still looking realistically at a 6th or 7th place finish.

After missing the first three races of the fall, Gendron was step for step with Steven at the Marauder Bayfront Meet, earlier this month. “It felt really good to get out there, but it was definitely a shock to the system, running my first eight kms cross-country race,” said the graduate of the Etobicoke School of the Arts.

Born in the Netherlands and blessed with a strong francophone background, Gendron is typical of most rookies to the team, gradually getting her bearings with all that is involved in becoming a varsity athlete. “I am living on my own in residence,” she stated. “It's hard, because I have to juggle cooking, which is very time consuming, classes, coming to practice, getting enough sleep.”

And then there are the changes to her sports-related routines. “It's been quite an adjustment,” she acknowledged. “I am definitely running longer reps, and at faster paces. We are doing longer reps, but less of them than I was used to, but at faster paces. As for the timing, doing three workouts a week isn't really any different than what I was used to doing.”

"I find that I've gotten a lot faster since I got here."

While Kingston native Paul Sagriff is expected to lead the L.U. pack on the men's side of things, the local tandem of Liam Passi (Lasalle) and Caleb Beland (Bishop Carter) are part of an intriguing chase group, working with teammates Eric Gareau and Dylan McKevitt. Alexander Fishbein-Ouimette and Jarod Milford round out the squad that will don the blue and gold at Western.

“It's nice having that unison, the goal of going to nationals,” said Passi, who transferred back up to Laurentian after competing for a couple of seasons with the University of Toronto Blues. “Everyone is really buying into that goal, buying into the team program, buying into Darren (Jermyn)'s training, which is super important.”

Racing on exactly the same course on which the Western Invitational was contested back in September, the Voyageurs feel particularly well-equipped to garner a top seven showing that would punch their ticket to their first U-Sport Championship appearance in recent program history. “We've done a lot of specific training, towards the OUA Championships, since we know what the course is like,” said Passi.

“There are some big hills, which I think to play to our strengths, as we have a lot of hills around here. I think Darren has done a great job of making specific training, for the course.” In addition, the LU crew can tap into the confidence that comes from a rock-solid performance at a late September race in Rochester (NY).

“I think our first big team showing was at Geneseo, where we placed second as a team and Paul (Sagriff) was able to win the race,” said Passi. “We really wanted to be competitive at the race, that was really our first benchmark. We're looking really good for OUA's.”

His long-time teammate with the Track North Athletic Club is not about to disagree with that general assessment of the squad. “Last year, our goal was to make nationals, but depth-wise, we were a little more thin,” said Beland (Laurentian finished just three points out of seventh place). “A few additions, like Eric, and with Dylan being healthy this year, and having guys in the best shape that we are in, right now, this is why we have so much confidence.”

Besides, it's not as though this mindset is a “Johnny come lately” vision for the year. “Running the mileage this summer, I've been visualizing us qualifying for nationals,” admitted the third year student of Kinesiology. “I had goals for my outdoor season, but they were nothing compared to this goal. As a team, we all share that goal, and that's why it's so easy to work towards, together.”

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