StFX cross country races into new season
The race is on for the StFX cross country team, with preparations for another Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season in full swing.
The blue and white – both men and women – are led by veteran head coach Bernie Chisholm.The X-Men, defending conference champions, will be vying for their sixth consecutive AUS crown.
"A lot of the guys stayed in town [Antigonish] for the summer and certainly put in the miles and worked hard, and so on, so I think they are ready to be stronger than last year, if everything goes right – and there are no injuries, of course – which is the baggage of runners," Chisholm said.
Although the X-Men have lost 2015 conference all-stars Riley Johnston and Lee Wesselius to graduation, he added "our core is back."
That 'core' includes a pair of all-stars – fifth-year senior Scott Donald (Ottawa, ON) and senior Cal Dewolfe (Bridgewater, NS) – who raced to second and third, respectively, in last season's AUS final; not to mention juniors Alex Cyr (Abram-Village, PE), another conference all-star, and Nick Favero (Rockland, ON).
"They are going to help make us very strong," Chisholm said of that group.
Alex Neuffer (Stratford, PE), who missed last season with an injury, is back for his senior season.
"He is an extremely talented runner. I can certainly see him as a top-three in the AUS," Chisholm said. "He is like a rookie, in as much as he missed all last year."
Sophomores Paul MacLellan (Antigonish, NS) and Angus Rawling (Calgary, AB), the 2015 AUS rookie of the year and conference all-star, have also returned to the roster.
"We have some great depth," Chisholm said, noting the X-Men have also added five recruits.
Colin Glencross, a native of Bangor, Maine, "certainly looked good as a high school runner," according to Chisholm.
Addison Derhak (Toronto, ON), who ran 15:55 this year, joins the squad from Ontario.
"So, there is certainly some potential there," Chisholm said.
Colin MacInnis (Mabou, NS), a Dalbrae High School graduate, is also in the fold.
"He had some injuries to deal with during the fall last year, but I think, over the four years, that Colin can help our program," Chisholm said.
He added there are some other runners coming in who "will have to prove themselves."
"We always say, 'do the work and the score will take care of itself,'" Chisholm said, when asked about expectations for this season.
"Looking for leadership on the team, where each of them push each other and so on, and become the best that they can be.
"They won the conference the last five years and we placed seventh last year in the CIS, but the CIS is getting very, very, very competitive," he added.
Chisholm noted student-athletes are "not going to the [United] States as much anymore."
"You saw that in the Olympics, where I think the majority of medals were won by CIS athletes, which is great," he said.
For the X-Men, Chisholm said "if they have a year where they are happy, at the end, with their improvement, and they ran personal bests and so on, and the team came together as one, that's what I am looking at."
Great chemistry for X-Women
As for the X-Women, who finished second in the conference last season, Chisholm said they will boast a great mix of new and returning student-athletes.
"It is just not a three, or four, or five woman team. There's going to be 12 or 14 there – all pushing for spots and pushing each other," he said.
"There's great team chemistry among them, and so on, and they all get along very well.
"I am looking forward to working with them," Chisholm added.
He noted there are eight newcomers joining the X-Women for the upcoming season, including a pair of Nova Scotia products – Paige Chisholm (Kentville, NS) and Ashley Robson (Dartmouth).
"Both of them ran quite well last year in high school cross country," the head coach said, noting they were top-five finishers in the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) provincial competition in 2015.
"I think that they can come in and add to the program right away."
Mary MacDonald, who played four seasons with the X-Women soccer team, has made the move to cross country for her fifth and final campaign.
"She certainly has an outstanding background in running," Chisholm said.
"I certainly feel that Mary's leadership and her past involvement in running certainly can help us and make an immediate impact as well."
Felicity Dorsett (New Providence, Bahamas), a 4:08 runner in the 1,500m, has decided to attempt to transition her talents to the cross country course.
"We will see how she does," he said.
Chisholm noted those four are "the ones I am looking forward to possibly making an impact immediately."
As for the returning runners, the veteran mentor said he anticipates they are "going to step up their game quite a bit," noting the team met in April to discuss the next season.
"I certainly challenged – both the men's team and the women's team – to do a lot of work during the summer and be consistent with their training, and so on," Chisholm said.
"Speaking to them, I think that they were quite religious to that."
One of the keys for the X-Women will be team captain Liz MacDonald (Bedford, NS), who missed most of last season with a stress fracture.
"She is going to help immensely," Chisholm said.
"She had a solid summer and certainly, I think, we are going to see great things from her."
Hana Marmura (Antigonish, NS), the AUS rookie of the year and all-conference runner last season, is back for her sophomore campaign.
"She had an outstanding cross [country] season, but she ended up with a compartment syndrome injury, which required an operation, in early June, but she is back running now," Chisholm said.
"I think Hana certainly, in her second year, is going to take another step."
Junior Ellen Burnett (Charlottetown, PE) has been "running consistently and injury free," according to Chisholm.
"I think she is ready to have a breakout year," he noted.
Chisholm said junior Olivia MacDonald (Antigonish, NS) had a "great" indoor season last year, while senior Heidi MacDonald (Merigomish, NS) "can add to our mix."
Zoe Johnston (Pembroke, ON), who battled injuries in her freshman campaign, returns for her sophomore season.
Chisholm said junior Leah Gouthro (Hammonds Plains, NS) came off a "great freshman year," but fought injuries in her sophomore season.
"A healthy Leah, again, could certainly help us a great deal," he added.
Chisholm said there will be great competition to decide the seven runners that will compete in the AUS championship race later in the season.
"We have a lot of athletes there that are going to push each other, and so on, which I think is going to be great," he added.
When asked about the goal for the X-Women, he said "to improve on last year."
"Dal [2015 conference champs] was extremely strong last year – I think they were a top-six team in the CIS – and certainly they dominated our conference," Chisholm said.
"But, if we can edge closer, and all of these girls run to their potential and so on, certainly closing that gap is a big thing. Even, looking down the road – next year and the year after – there's a great nucleus here."
The StFX cross country program will host the Subway AUS Championship, Saturday, Oct. 29, on the Antigonish campus.
"It is a distinct advantage for us to have that," he said, noting team members "know the course like the back of their hand."
"Knowing how to run it – what we have on campus is what I call a very technical course; there are some sharp turns, there are some narrow spots in it, there are some hills in there.
"It is a great cross country course but, at the same time, it is a distinct advantage – being able to know the course, because you know when to make your moves and so on, and when to back off a bit," Chisholm added.
He noted "we always have fans all along the course cheering and so on."
"All of that helps," Chisholm said of the "very spectator friendly course."
"There has been great work done on that, over the years, to develop it, by the maintenance crew and grounds people at StFX," he added.
Chisholm said people from Antigonish, along with university students, always come out to support the event.
"I know our kids enjoy running on their home course and in front of their fans," he said.
Over the years, Chisholm said there has always been a "great" committee that puts things together, when the conference championship comes to StFX.
"It is second-to-none in the conference, and schools will tell you that – that they enjoy coming to Antigonish so much – because there is a following of cross country and running that will come out and showcase the sport," he added.
As for key elements for success, Chisholm agreed a vital one is team health.
"They know that and that's what we have been preaching; it appears like a long time, but the window is so short," Chisholm said of the cross country season.
"An injury that will knock you out for a couple weeks – and then it takes you a week to 10 days to get back from it, after you get back into training – you just can't afford that.
"We are fortunate to have depth, because there is going to be around 18 guys trying out and there is around as many women, so we do have that depth and so on," he added.
Although there are times when injuries cannot be avoided, Chisholm noted that team members can do their part to lessen the chances.
"Do the little things right – be proactive," he said.
"If you think you might feel an ache or a pain, and so on [tell us]; getting your sleep and eating right – those are the little things that add up and become very big and major things.
"If you neglect them, you will know it," Chisholm added.
The team will hold a time trial on Saturday, September 10.
"We are doing it a little bit differently this year – we are having a 5k for the girls and an 8k for the guys, on the track," Chisholm noted.
StFX will launch their season the following weekend (Saturday, Sept. 17) at the Bowdoin Invitational in Brunswick, Maine.
"It is a chance to get the team away for a few days, and we are really looking at that as an extension of our training camp," Chisholm said.