By Thomas Becker
UPEI's cross country program has plenty to be excited about with the reintroduction of head coach Mike Peterson.
Peterson started the program in 2015 with a vision of developing a team that could compete with the league's elite. But with other responsibilities taking priority, including finishing his masters, starting a new position at his job and welcoming a new addition to his family, he was forced to step away the following year knowing he couldn't invest as much time as he wanted and the team needed.
"I never wanted to leave in the first place. But I don't like doing something unless I can do it properly," he said. "I'm very grateful to Colin MacAdam for taking care of things until I could get to the point where it made sense to come back."
Since his return earlier this summer, Peterson has been hard at work expanding the roster to 19 runners — the most UPEI has ever had.
"Initially, the plan was to get the numbers up a little, but I'd like to quickly get to the point where there is some serious competition."
One of those 19 runners is Daniel Maguire, who Peterson describes as "the second high-quality athlete the cross country team has acquired in the last 5 years."
Maguire began his undergrad at Dalhousie — where he also ran cross country — before an interest in veterinary medicine led him to UPEI.
"I was very fortunate that along with a veterinary program, UPEI also had a budding cross country program that I was excited to be a part of," Maguire said.
As a member of Dalhousie's team, Maguire got a taste of the ultimate prize and now he's hoping to translate that success over to the Panthers.
"I think with continued dedication to our training, we have the potential to improve on the 6th place finish last season."
From an individual perspective, Maguire looks to step out of the shadow of his former Tiger teammates and become a standout with the Panthers, and he believes he can do that under Peterson's guidance.
"I hope I'm able to continue to improve in not only my own running ability, but my ability as a leader as well. With his help, I intend to make my presence known on the AUS stage, and additionally at a national level."
With challenges ahead, especially when contending with the likes of perennial powers St. FX and Dalhousie, the team has been training hard and taking the steps necessary to get better.
In addition to strength training with Brett Roberts from CrossFit 782, the runners continue to gain valuable experience by piling up the mileage. The biggest challenge right now is keeping the inexperienced runners healthy, Peterson said.
"We have some tremendous athletes who are making the switch from other sports to cross country, and it's a fine line between pushing them to the limit and keeping them healthy."
Maguire isn't the only one making noise ahead of the season's first meet. Peterson is also high on Tatiana Kelly, who's expected to take a big leap forward following a strong rookie campaign and is poised to do well by the time the AUS Championships role around in late October. Also in her sophomore season is Annika Wiebe, who has taken on a leadership role and has been helpful with impressive new additions Phoebe and Melanie Mitchell, Haley Shea, Maria Mullally and Montana Loughran.
On the men's side, getting Andrew Wong, Alec Brown, Andrew Murphy and Samuel Peterson healthy again is the top priority. If they can return to form and get strong results from freshmen Matt Kozma and Dan Godfrey then they could surprise some people by season's end.
"In addition to having the best results we can this year, we need to build the right culture by creating a team-based atmosphere where everyone works toward creating a healthy and competitive environment."