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L.U. cross-country season wraps up with some racers of note
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Just how far both Keon Wallingford and Angela Mozzon have come was right near the top of a handful of highlights from the 2023 OUA Cross-Country Championships in Waterloo as Laurentian Voyageurs teams finished ninth (women) and tenth (men) respectively in fields of 17 entries from across the province.

A highly touted North Bay product who took the OUA by storm as a rookie in 2019, Wallingford placed 31st at the provincial showdown that year and contributed nicely to an L.U. men's entry that earned a birth at nationals.

But far beyond the challenge that Covid-19 would pose a year later, Wallingford would battle the dreaded injury bug in the ensuing seasons, fighting his way back this fall to a 21st place finish on Saturday and a season-best time of 25:17.

"It's almost hard to put into words what Keon was able to accomplish today," noted Laurentian head coach Darren Jermyn. "He had been injured for a full year, dealing with an ongoing shin issue, so he didn't have the typical summer mileage build and training base coming into the season."

"He has worked extremely hard to be physically ready to race at the elite level again - but perhaps what is more impressive is his mental toughness on race day."

Yet it was a very soft-spoken 22 year old fifth year student (but only year three of eligibility) who looked ahead last week as he and his team put their finishing touches on pre-race workouts at the Laurentian track.

"I definitely have some personal goals but I don't have any huge expectations," said Wallingford last Monday. "This is kind of a remain healthy season and continue to run. But I am a competitor. I like to compete and do well."

The OUA championship race provided a great end to the university XC season for young man who still must make some key decisions before next fall - though the question of still running, in some way, shape or form is not one of them.

"I'm actually not entirely sure of what I am doing yet, academically," said Wallingford, who is contemplating doing a masters in psychology but also considering applying to law school. "I still have two years (of eligibility) after this."

"If I stay at Laurentian or go to another school that has a running team, I will continue to run. Even if I don't go to a school with a running team, I am still going to run, probably for Track North."

Wallingford led all of the Voyageurs' men in Waterloo, followed by local product Brandon Radey (57th - 27:17 - 30-second PB), Seamus Doherty (63rd - 27:29), Cameron Date (70th - 27:55) and Patrick Leroux (78th - 28:11).

On the women's side of things, St Benedict Catholic Secondary School product Angela Mozzon showed the way for the Laurentian ladies for a second straight year, improving two spots from her 2022 OUA performance (35th in Waterloo - 31:19).

"Angela's eight kilometre time has improved by over five minutes since she came to Laurentian," noted coach Jermyn. "She is really a prime example of what we can achieve with our program and the support we have from the university."

Also helping the Voyageurs' women jump one place up in the standings this year were Meredith Kusnierczyk, who took full advantage of a flat, fast course to run the fastest race of her varsity career (50th - 32:15), as well as Kristen Mrozewski (53rd - 32:24), Sarah Booth (66th - 33:46) and Charlotte Grenier (72nd - 34:26).

In Mrozewski, Grenier and Booth, the team should have some building blocks for 2024 (other might return as well), with the latter finishing her fourth and final year of Outdoor Adventure Leadership but tacking on a year of Concurrent Education at the tail-end.

"When I am in my school year, if I don't have sports, I don't do well academically," said Booth, a native of Peterborough. "I need it."

Varsity sports, however, were not a given for the daughter of life-long runners - but one who never really embraced it consistently until she arrived in Sudbury. Thankfully, the university process does have time on its side.

"When I came here, I didn't reach out right away because of Covid and stuff," Booth recollected. "But I knew one of the previous runners (Sarah Thackery) and eventually decided to reach out to Darren."

"He asked me: are you fit?" Booth continued. "I said fairly fit - then I came out and realized that I was fit, but not THAT fit. This is a huge difference. I think I actually found Covid really helpful. Because we didn't have any races, I just trained the whole time."

"That was nice because in the following year, I could actually be competitive."

Many are the examples of those who have experienced similar journeys to that of Booth and Mozzon and Mrozewski, a hockey recruit of a now-defunct program when she initially enrolled at Laurentian.

"It's nice to have that ability to have what Darren calls a practice squad," noted Booth. "It's great for just getting into it because Darren cuts back on the workouts. Just being able to have that conversation with Darren about what you can do to work your way into this and not getting injured is the biggest thing."

Following the traditional post-race visit to Dairy Queen, the team will now shift their focus to the indoor season, with the OUA Championships set for February 23rd to the 25th in Windsor.

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