© Copyright – 2017 – Athletics Illustrated

Brent Fougner. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

The University of Victoria Vikes cross-country team is getting ready to host the 2017 U Sport national championships at Beacon Hill Park in two weeks’ time. Sunday, Nov. 12 schools from across Canada will converge on the capital for their biggest cross-country meet of the year.

The Vikes being the hosts will want to perform well at home. Asked how the men’s and women’s team look for this season, Head Coach Brent Fougner said, “We are rolling along pretty good. We have a pretty decent women’s team and a very young men’s team. We do have some returning guys that will step up.”

The Vikes’ men’s team from 2016 finished a competitive fifth overall. The University of Laval finished first, while Trinity Western University of Langley finished second. To round out the top five Western and McMaster universities finished third and fourth.

In 2016, Ben Weir was the third-fastest Vike finishing 31st overall in the time of 31:55. The overall race winner was Laval’s Yves Sikubwabo. He broke the tape in the time of 30:51. He is back this year.

“Chet Goerzon is back. He had a little injury last spring, but will probably be our lead guy this year, which is good for a second-year athlete,” added Fougner.

Goerzon raced last year, but as expected at the time, the rookie finished two minutes outside of the top runners, crossing the line in the time of 33:40.4.

“Weir is going into his last year and will provide some leadership. And then there are a whole bunch of first and second-year guys that are going to fill the other spots in,” added Fougner.

The Vikes ran an invitational meet on Oct. 14 over the same course at Beacon Hill Park. The top Vikes finisher was Jonathan Toombs who finished in 31:55 in sixth position and 44 seconds out of first. Toombs and the rest of the Vikes will not have to face three of the runners who beat them at the invitational, as John Gay, Max Trummer and Jesse Hooton run for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds who do not compete in U Sport, but the NAIA – they have their own national championships this fall.

Adam Strueby. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Goerzon and Weir should finish further up the field this year. The athletes to watch again are Sikubwabo and Declan White of Trinity Western, who went 1-2 last year. Adam Strueby of Regina had a great run at the Vikes Invitational.  Kevin Tree of Lakehead and Connor Black with Guelph should run well.

The top-three teams to watch for Nov 12 are Laval, TWU and Guelph with McMaster, Western and Calgary threatening.

The Vikes’ women’s team will be much stronger at Beacon Hill Park, than they were in Quebec at the national championships last year, where they finished in ninth position.

This year they have a stronger team led by Emily Hooper, who ran well at the Vikes Invitational. She finished fifth. One of the runners that finished ahead of her, Lindsay Carson, who won is no longer competing at the university level, while second place Nathalie Hawthorn competes for the Thunderbirds of the NAIA.

However, it will be the University of Toronto who will win the women’s race as they have veterans Sasha Gollish, Olympian Gabriela Stafford and top-finisher from 2016 Lucia Stafford all on the roster.

If all three toe-the-line, they will be tough to beat.

Emily Hooper. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Claire Sumner was the overall winner in 2016. She runs for Queen’s University.

The distance for women until 2016 in U Sport (formerly CIS and CIAU) was 6K. The distance for 2017 is 8K. The distance may play better in the hands of the veteran Toronto team, but Hooper, a triathlete and a veteran herself will be a top finisher to lead the Vikes in front of the hometown crowd.

For 2016 the top three teams were Guelph, Queens and Trinity Western. Toronto was fifth last year.