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Every step counts at SDSSAA cross-country race

Yes, at the end of a very long day, winners were notified of their victories at the 2020 SDSSAA Cross-Country Championship on Wednesday.

But with runners leaving the starting line from times ranging to 9:00 a.m. until after 5:00 p.m., with each participating school allocated a designated time whereby their representatives would depart at 15 second intervals, these races were about far more than crowning champions.

More than ever, the high-school athletes that assembled at Kivi Park raced against themselves, or perhaps chasing down a teammate or two (or more) who had been given a lead of a minute or two.

It was a new experience for almost everyone there.

"It's more difficult, especially starting first (for your school)," said Owen Roney, a 16 year-old grade 11 student at Lockerby Composite. "I really couldn't tell how far back the people were behind me. I much prefer running in a big group, because then I can figure out where to pace myself."

Leading the way for the Vikings' senior boys team - teammate Travis Annett was six seconds back, the tandem securing 8th and 9th place overall - Roney finds himself continuing the breakthrough that first started at his former school.

"I think last year, at Chelmsford (Chelmsford Valley District Composite School), I got more serious," noted the resident of Dowling. "I was doing really well and made it to NOSSA and OFSAA last year."

"I think that's when I started training a little bit more and getting a little bit more serious about it."

All in all, Roney was pleased with his performance at a venue that would not necessarily rank at the top of his favourites.

"I don't mind Kivi, but I much prefer trail running, like at Naughton," he said. "I like the trail, the mud, everything. Naughton is a terrain with a lot of roots. You have to watch out for grass and mud, whereas Kivi is all gravel."

"There are hills, but it's pretty much smooth sailing."

In terms of race experience alone, Marymount Regals' junior Emma Stegmann is not about to disagree.

"Most of our cross-country races were similar disances, most of our races were four kilometres," said the 15 year-old who finished in third place, trailing only the Lo-Ellen tandem of Sophia Oommen and Sarah Lanthier.

"We always raced out in the bush, never road running - but the one in Naughton is closer to what we were used to. At the races in Australia, we had to have an ambulance there, in case people broke their ankle or hurt themselves."

Though born in South Africe, Stegmann has spent the bulk of her life in Western Australia, moving to Canada in late 2019. Still, her athletic resume is not all that dissimilar from that of her fellow competitors.

"It's hard to compare, but I think my experience would have been similar," she said. "All through school (primary), I did a lot of running. Every year, we would do quite a few races between schools and stuff. The best result I ever got was shortlisted for the state team for running."

And though she would not represent her state in cross-country competitions, she did don the colours in both field hockey and surf club, a sort of surf based triathlon that also involves running and kayaking (Google Summer of Surf Australia for more information).

As for adding to her sporting resume, Stegmann is looking to do so in a most Canadian way. "I really want to learn how to ice skate so that I can play ice hockey," she said. "But that's going to take time to learn - and this year has been a little bit hard to find new sports to do."

The truth is, many of the traditional fall high-school sports are simply unavailable. That is exactly the reason that steered grade 11 St Benedict Catholic Secondary School Matthew Guerra to take a crack at the city X-C showdown for the very first time.

"I decided to do this given that there was no football season," said the 16 year-old veteran of several years of Joe MacDonald Youth Football League play. "It's less physical, in the sense that your body is not aching and sore, but I do think that I carried the ability to dig deep over from football to cross-country."

Guerra would rank as the fastest of the Bears on this day, taking advantage of a race format that created a little extra motivation for the 16 year-old student athlete. "I was lucky enough to be in a situation where there was always someone who was 100 metres ahead of me," he explained.

"You always try and dig deep to find the energy to get past that guy - so every 100 metres, you want it more."

As for the course itself, Guerra would look to turn a negative to a positive. "You have to use those hills," he suggested. "You want to try and not treat the uphills as a bad thing, because you know if you go up a hill, you get to come back down."

None of the senior girls would go up and down the hills as quickly as Kalila Bachiu, claiming the individual title and celebrating her return to Lo-Ellen this fall. With no progression through to provincials in the cards for this year, the 16 year-old grade 12 student had to find a way to reconcile her goals.

"I was very disappointed when I heard that OFSAA was cancelled, because this is my senior year and I was hoping for a good season," said Bachiu, who recorded a time that was roughly forty seconds faster than her older sister (Chandyn is 11 months older) in second place.

"But I just made sure that I had my long-term vision in mind. When I heard that there were going to be a few smaller races, that was kind of confirmation for all of my training. I just feel really lucky that I got to have some races, because I know that not very many athletes got that opportunity, even in northern Ontario, which is quite surprising."

Her triumph at the SDSSAA meet also displayed a very nice rebound from a nagging hamstring injury that hampered the training that Bachiu was looking to do, over the summer. "I was out for five months, but i wasn't super severe, so I was able to do some moderate training," she said.

"But it definitely slowed me down. It kind of shook my confidence a little bit."

Some decent performances at the preliminary events helped to overcome the second thoughts, and while the staggered start approach on Wednesday certainly threw some athletes for a loop, Bachiu was thankful for the traditional winter sport cross-training training regimen under coach Colin Ward.

"Because I'm a nordic skier, I am used to this concept a little more than some of the other athletes," she said. "I kind of already had a feel for what it would be like. Before the race, I went over what I wanted to focus on technically during the race, and I just made sure that, in my mind, that I was going to be very focused."

"Every step of that race counted."

Following are the top five finishers, as well as the overall team aggregate divisional winners, in all six categories:

Senior Girls Division
1st - Kalila Bachiu (LOE) - 18:28
2nd - Chandyn Bachiu (LOE) - 19:07
3rd - Isabella Mastroianni (LOE) - 19:19
4th - Peyton Brear (LAS) - 19:48
5th - Sarah Ieropoli (LOE) - 19:49
Team Aggregate - Lo-Ellen Park

Senior Boys Division
1st - Calum Passi (LAS) - 14:12
2nd - Matthew Smith (CFD) - 14:18
3rd - Kendyn Mashinter (LOE) - 14:35
4th - Alex Lambert (LOE) - 15:47
5th - Austin Mashinter (LOE) - 15:47
Team Aggregate - Lo-Ellen Park

Junior Girls Division
1st - Sophia Oommen (LOE) - 18:15
2nd - Sarah Lanthier (LOE) - 19:15
3rd - Emma Stegmann (MMT) - 20:40
4th - Caitlyn Luck (LOE) - 20:59
5th - Sierra Boyuk (BAC) - 21:17
Team Aggregate - Marymount Academy

Junior Boys Division
1st - Carson Crane (CFD) - 15:34
2nd - Kaeden Ward (LOE) - 15:51
3rd - Liam Lacroix (LOE) - 15:55
4th - Braydon Ethier (CFD) - 16:33
5th - Alan Wilkin (MAN) - 16:51
Team Aggregate - Confederation Chargers

Novice Girls Division
1st - Maren Kasunich (MAN) - 17:10
2nd - Lauren Pineau (LCS) - 17:52
3rd - Mackenzie Green (MAN) - 18:19
4th - Bree Bourget (LOE) - 19:09
5th - Georgia Lepage (STB) - 19:54
Team Aggregate - Manitoulin Secondary

Novice Boys Division
1st - Atom Thususka (LCS) - 16:17
2nd - Owen Dobson (LOE) - 16:27
3rd - Liam Binks (LCS) - 16:40
4th - James Bertrim (LCS) - 16:43
5th - Nolan Kuhlberg (LOE) - 17:10
Team Aggregate - Lockerby Composite

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