By Thomas Becker
UPEI's Cross Country program has taken massive strides in recent years. In 2017 alone, the men's team captured a bronze medal in the AUS Championships and sent one of their top runners to nationals.
Now for the first time, they'll host an invitational meet where Island fans will get the chance to see their team up close and personal.
"The cross country and track and field teams have been somewhat invisible – strong results, but the home fans never got to see the athletes compete. The bronze medal performance was an amazing accomplishment but only a few Islanders actually saw the race," said head coach Colin MacAdam. "This week we get to compete at home without the 6 a.m. meeting at the sport centre parking lot and the three-hour drive.
Victoria Park, with its scenic backdrop, will be the home of the race, which takes place on Saturday, Sept. 15 at noon.
"The first race of the year always has shorter distances – 6 km for the men and 5 km for the women. The course at Victoria Park is central with great viewing for spectators. It's flat but with a lot of turns, so I expect the races to be very fast"
The opportunity to host a meet is a huge accomplishment for the up-and-coming program and they intend on taking full advantage of the spotlight.
"University cross country meets are great events – lots of runners and spectators and some fierce competition," MacAdam said. "Hosting will allow us to showcase the sport and help us continue to attract some of the top runners to our programs."
The men's team that captured bronze last season lost key runners in Lee Wesselius and Ryan Merrett, but MacAdam is confident his team can put up competitive results. While Wesselius won't be running, his leadership and experience will payoff as an assistant coach, tasked at leading the cross country teams to contention.
"We'll be counting on Jeremy Thompson and Alec Brown to score high in the men's race and we also have high expectations for Nick Robertson as he begins his university career."
On the women's side, they've added Michaela Walker, who is competing for UPEI after a great career at Dalhousie University. The women's team has never been able to consistently field a full team (five runners) but this year the team has seven runners training on a regular basis.
"Michaela Walker and Emma Moore will lead the women and rookie Tatiana Kelly will start her university career after a strong high school career in cross country, track and field and triathlon."
After years of hard work and dedication from the athletes to the coaches, and the support from the university, cross country has slowly become a staple at UPEI and it's events like this that should be celebrated moving forward.
*As part of the UPEI Invitational, Island junior and senior high school athletes will be given the opportunity to take part in the first AUS meet of the season. Junior high athletes will run in a 3 km race at 11 a.m., and high school athletes will take part in the AUS races: a 5 km female race at noon and a 6 km male race at 12:45 p.m. Registration is available on trackie.reg. Contact Mike Peterson for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.