“Race as one; compete as a team.”
At some point over the course of the recent OFSAA experience or before, the Lo-Ellen Park Knights senior boys’ crew came across this poster. For a group that has collectively achieved more than pretty much any other group of individuals in the long and storied history of Lo-Ellen cross-country excellence, the words resonated with them.
“I found that really embodied what the cross-country team sport is,” said Shiloh Sauvé, a 16 year old grade 11 athlete who was part of the roster for the first time this year, a year younger than the 2023 quartet he raced with on the weekend.
Starting at OFSAA 2021, the core of the current graduating class of Lo-Ellen senior boys runners put together a three year run as follows: gold medal winners at junior boys OFSAA in 2021; 4th place in senior boys at OFSAA in 2022; 4th place in senior boys and just five points off the podium in 2023.
Owen Dobson, Nolan Kuhlberg and Jacob Barney were members of all three of those teams. Sam Rice was a double entry (2021/2023) while Shiloh Sauvé, Russell Joiner, Kaeden Ward and Liam Lacroix also pitched in at various times.
Two years ago, these Knights exploded on to the scene, finishing first as a team by placing no less than four runners in the top 31 juniors in the province two years ago.
At the far more challenging senior level, the locals dropped a couple of placements in both 2022 and 2023, sliding in to fourth thanks to a collective effort that squeezed their talents between 45th and 95th in 2022 and 35th and 108th last Saturday (November 4th).
With all but Shiloh Sauvé expected to graduate next June, the most recent all-Ontario showdown in Toronto was effectively the last hurrah for a cluster of athletes who were clearly more than the sum of their individual parts.
“I think we have a lot of depth as a team,” said Dobson. “It’s sort of a perfect collection of people that are really dedicated and committed.”
With not a single top 30 individual finish in the cards at the senior level, this group draws far more on the very special inner-workings of their specific team chemistry to vault themselves above competitors who might benefit from a more naturally athletic base.
There is a mindset that rings true in talking with each and every member of the squad.
“For me, I always want to have my best run,” said Dobson. “I would be remiss not to put my best effort forward, not just for myself, but also in not wanting to disappoint other people because I respect the amount of work that they have put in.”
“During the race, when it starts to get hard, you remember that you’re not running for yourself, you’re running for the team,” added Sauvé. “It doesn’t matter how I am feeling. I am more focused on doing this for my team that I have trained with all season, just not to let them down.”
“I find that motivates me more.”
As in most sporting ventures, the end results are most often a function of the countless practice sessions that would pave the way to competitive meets. Thankfully, there is nothing “alone” about this crew that competes at the very highest level in what is so often viewed as an individual pursuit.
“The training is always fun because we are always pushing each other, trying to become our best,” said Sauvé. “Within that, there is a level of competition to see who can be faster – but there’s the team aspect, knowing that we are all going to race hard for each other.”
“I get a lot of stress and anxiety before the race – just because I know that I’m about to push myself that hard,” stated Dobson. “Having everyone else there helps because you know we’re all going through the same experience. There’s a comfort in that.”
“Running is a really supportive environment."
A basketball player first and foremost in his youth, Sauvé has gradually inched his way closer and closer to teammates who outdistanced him easily just a few years ago. “I always ran elementary cross-country, but not really focused on the running, more just to have fun with my friends,” he said.
“I started running more seriously in high-school. Even last year, I kind of went to OFSAA just for myself because I knew that my team (2022 – junior boys) didn’t have much of a chance. But this year, knowing that my team had a chance, it’s a completely different environment.”
“Every person I pass is another point for my team.”
While basketball was not the side-sport of choice for Dobson, neither was running an automatic source of excellence. “I’ve been really lucky to have a real growth experience (in high-school),” he opined. “Some people start running and they’re good right from the hop; that wasn’t my experience at all.”
“Every year has been a progression of working harder and sticking it out. Your effort over the course of time really translates into your performance – even more than other sports.”
Coaching this group as well as the remainder of the Knights cross-country team that have dominated at both the SDSSAA and NOSSA levels for many, many years are Colin Ward, Neil Phipps, Camille Dupuis and Julie Lacroix.