By Woodard, Dale on November 8, 2019.
The Lethbridge College Kodiaks women’s cross country running team has been ranked number one in the country all season.
Now, they’ll look to stay there.
The Kodiaks women’s team – along with men’s runners Connor Jackson and Cooper Cheshire – are in Grande Prairie Saturday for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association national championship.
Led by defending national champion Sophia Nowicki, the Kodiaks send a full contingent of six runners in the women’s race with the placings of the top four finishers contributing to the team competition.
Heading north alongside Nowicki are rookie Rosie Bouchard, who finished eighth in the ACAC championships and sophomore Anna LeBlanc who placed ninth. Vildana Rekic and Janelle Graham finished 13th and 14th, respectively, at the ACAC championships.
Jackson and Cheshire also earned top-10 finishes at the ACAC championship and will race individually in Grande Prairie.
“The mood is pretty light and they’re all pretty excited,” said Kodiaks cross country head coach Simon Schaerz. “I think they all know that they put in the work and everything has been going really well, so they’re pretty confident. That’s the sense that I get, they are ready to go.”
Nowicki has won 10 straight Canadian college races, including back-to-back ACAC championships and the 2018 CCAA title.
She is also the two-time defending ACAC Runner of the Year.
Despite those lofty accolades, the third-year runner from Bragg Creek said it’s been an off-year for her.
“I don’t feel like I was very strong this season, for sure,” said Nowicki. “I was pretty busy over the summer and I didn’t have time to do almost any training. So I came into the season not feeling as strong as I did last year. I’ve kind of been coasting through this season, in all honesty, and saving it more so for track because that’s where I would really like to do well. But every season is different and every race is different.”
Still, Schaerz felt Nowicki competing with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns track team last season will be beneficial.
“Competing in U Sports last winter at that higher level I think gave her a lot of confidence,” he said. “Just the way she runs the races, she is very dominant. She takes charge and controls the races from start to finish and I don’t expect that to be much different this weekend. The competition will be a little bit stiffer.”
While the Kodiaks men’s team’s fourth-place finish at the ACAC championships wasn’t enough to qualify for nationals, Jackson and Cheshire made the mark.
Jackson finished in fifth in the conference championships and was named to the ACAC all-conference team. Cheshire placed ninth.
“The way they have been working, the top 10 should be well within their reach,” said Schaerz.
After a stellar rookie campaign, Bouchard looks for a grand final in Grande Prairie.
“We’ve just been practising and trying to be relaxed instead of stressing about it,” said the product of Okotoks. “I just want to do my best because I know it’s really competitive and I know everybody’s going to push it.”
The runners will compete on the course at Muskoseepi Park.
“We’ve seen video and I’ve been to the park, just not running,” said Schaerz. “The one thing we know is going to be a given is we’ll have snow. We saw some nice pictures of the course, but it’s going to be all covered in snow. Which is kind of nice, because I think the one thing is we don’t mind snow and if it’s cold. What we really don’t like is wind that’s on the cusp of freezing. When you have that snowy, sleet type of precipitation. That’s the worst thing. I don’t think we’re going to have that this time around.”
Nowicki welcomed the snowy, cold weather.
“I love the weather,” she said. “Running in the snow in Calgary was fun. It makes it feel like real cross country. I feel that just makes it so much more fun. So for myself, no real adjustments. Maybe footwear and that’s it. I haven’t even noticed it with breathing and lungs when it’s colder. So I guess we’re kind of used to snow in Alberta.”
The 6-km women’s race begins at noon on Saturday, followed by the 8-km men’s race at 1 p.m.
Results will be available on the CCAA cross country championships web page.
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