Not the usual Athletics Ontario provincial championship cross country meet
but runners had the opportunity to race against many of their peers
Sunday, November 15th, 2020
By Rob J. Ross
LONDON, ON. - Cross country runners from across western Ontario had the rare opportunity to race.
Meets, including the entire high school cross country season, have been a casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving time trials and virtual races as the only options, under provincial health regulations.
Usually one meet for the entire province, Athletics Ontario had to divide their annual championship into three regionals, West, East and Central, due to limits on numbers of athletes at one location.
Fanshawe Golf Club, the site of this year's cancelled OFSAA high school provincial meet, hosted the AO West Region championships, on Saturday, November 14th.
Each division had three to four waves of runners. Waves were based on submitted seed times, starting fastest to slowest. Athletes were spaced two metres apart in waves of no more than 10, with waves starting every 30 seconds. The course was a two kilometre loop on the golf course.
Aiden Coles, of St. Thomas, running with London-Western club, had the top result of Elgin County and Dorchester runners, placing sixth in the Under-18 boys' six kilometre race (20:00).
Hallee Knelsen, of Aylmer, running with St. Thomas Legion Club (STL), was seventh (23:48) in the U18 girls' six kilometre event. London Western's Jalen Marcel and Victoria Lamb, finished one-two in the race.
"Training wise, I'm better than I've ever been for the cross country season. It's just a matter of getting to practice with some races because that's obviously helpful," Knelsen said. "I was really happy with (race) because it's my first six K of the year. It was good to be able to get out there and still put down a time that is similar to what I raced last year."
Hannah McIntyre, of Dorchester, placed eighth (16:49.1) in the Under-16 girls' four kilometre race. Dorchester teammates Tegan Ceccanese and Jenna Wideman, were 13th (17.21.7) and 15th (17.29.9), respectively.
"We've done a lot of training over the pandemic and we really got to use that training in these races," said Ceccanese. "I don't know if I'm faster than last year, but my overall running feeling has improved."
Under the guidance of Lord Dorchester secondary school coach James Tennant, the Dorchester running club, had 12 athletes racing.
"They ran really, really well, so I was pleased," Tennant said. "I was pleased they got a chance to compete. I think they enjoyed it because it's tough to practice all of the time, so it's nice to do something where you're running against other people."
Pandemic kills OFSAA dreams
But the meet doesn't make up for loss of the high school season, when several runners and teams had potential to advance to OFSAA.
The obvious would have been the St. Joseph's Rams senior boys, who won team gold as juniors a year ago in Sudbury. Four of the top five runners from that team, brothers Aiden and Tristan Coles, Brent Hagerty and Harrison Belanger, all ran in the AO U18 race, with their respective club teams.
Lord Dorchester's novice ladies that included McIntyre, Ceccenese and Wideman, also were on the trails at OFSAA last year, with aspirations to return as juniors.
"It is disappointing but it's good that Mr. Tennant kept on going with the club," said Wideman. "It feels really good to get back out. I missed (races)."
Tennant feels LDSS may have had four teams (senior boys, junior girls, junior boys, novice boys) with legitimate shots of advancing to OFSAA from the Western Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association (WOSSAA) championships.
"They would have had a shot at OFSAA. It's unfortunate," said Tennant, adding for the senior boys. "Very disappointing for them. We didn't have a great day at WOSSAA last year and only missed by three or five points. That was disappointing on the day and they didn't get a chance to get back this year."
Knelsen, a Grade 12 student at East Elgin Secondary, missed an opportunity at her fourth OFSAA cross country, after having her Grade 11 senior year for track and field killed by the pandemic.
As a junior in 2019, Knelsen won a silver medal in the 800 metre run and bronze in the 1500, at OFSAA track and was coming off a strong indoor season last winter. The potential to compete for gold in both races was high for 2020.
"It's hard because coming off a really strong indoor season (in February), definitely my best season yet, it was really tough to know that I could have done really well outdoor and not be able to show that."
Similar to all track and field athletes, Knelsen wants a season in 2021.
"I really hope so. I never thought my Grade 10 OFSAA would be my last OFSAA track. It would be really disappointing if we lost another one."
In the meantime, Knelsen is weighing multiple scholarship offers from schools across Canada and the U.S.
The consolation in Dorchester this year has been the running club, helping athletes remain fit for when ever a normal schedule of competition does return.
"We have really nice team atmosphere. I think what keeps them going is that social component. We work hard two or three days a week. The other days they are happy to meet and have a nice social run," said Tennant. "The kids need that because of covid, so it's been good for them. The competition has been secondary to just getting them out and doing development, because we weren't sure we'd be getting any (races)."
Owen Pink, a grade 12 senior at Lord Dorchester, was 16th in the open men's eight kilometre (26:55).
Knelsen led a team of eight athletes from St. Thomas Legion club.
"My philosophy this year is no matter what we do, we'll keep training as much as we can to maintain their fitness," St. Thomas head coach Harry Stantsos said. "I knew it would be challenging without prep races and each race set in waves."
Stantos pointed out Calvin Austen as having a good run despite running on his own, having broke away from his wave.
With cross country over, the focus turns to hope for an indoor season, which at this time does not seem promising. Practices may occur when facilities are available, but meets are very doubtful.
OFSAA has already cancelled the high school winter season championships. Same for U Sports, the Canadian university sports body, for their winter national championships, including indoor track and field.
Winner and local results (STL = St. Thomas Legion, LW = London Western)
U16 boys - four kilometres
Noah Booth, Kingston Physi-Kult, 1st (13:06.5); Calvin Austen, STL, 15th (14:10.8); Grant Hallman, DOR, 35th (15:11.4); Sam Willsie, DOR, 37th (15:12.4); Jeremy Hardeman, DOR, 38th (15:15.5); Tyson Currah, DOR, 41st (15:28.6); Andrew Monteith, of St. Thomas (London Legion), 42nd (15:30.2); Ethan Kent, DOR, 44th (15:38.6); Colby Baigent, DOR, 49th (16:15.1); Justin Barnes, DOR, 52nd (17:31.1).
U16 girls - four kilometres
Alexandra Campbell, Physi-Kult, 1st, (15:10.4); McIntyre, DOR, 8th (16:49.1); Ceccanese, DOR, 13th (17:21.7; Wideman, DOR, 15th (17:29.9); Keeley Van Horne, DOR, 53rd (18:53.4).
U18 boys - six kilometres
Tennessee Tremain, Laurel Creek, 1st (19:34.4); Aiden Coles, of St. Thomas, LW, 6th (20:00.7); Brent Hagerty, STL, 29th (21:23.2); Mason Basson, STL, 34th (21:49.9); Tristan Coles, of St. Thomas, LW, 38th (21:55.6); Harrison Belanger, STL, 40th (22:13.4); Vincent Moore, STL, 43rd (22:26.4); Justin Cole, STL, 46th (22:58.7).
U18 girls - six kilometres
Jalen Marcil, LW, 1st (22:55); Knelsen, STL, 7th (23:48); Claire Craig, STL, 23rd (26:07.8).
Men's open - eight kilometres
Andrew Davies, Hamilton Harbour, 1st (23:57.5); Owen Pink, DOR, 16th (26:55.7).
McIntyre third at time trial
At an under-16 girls' four kilometre cross country time trial, at the University of Waterloo, November 8th, McIntyre had the third fastest time (16:09), while Ceccanese and Wideman, placed eighth and ninth respectively.
Hallman was the fastest over two kilometres (7:35) in the U14 boys' division.
On the same day in Etobicoke, Owen Pink was third in the men's U18 six kilometre time trial finishing with a time of 20:01.
At the Sunnybrook Park four kilometre race, in Toronto, November 1st, Hagerty led St. Thomas Legion, finishing 19th overall (14:19). Basson was 20th (14:20), followed by Moore (14:54), Cole (15:06) and Craig (43rd female) (18:45).
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