By Pierre Lechat, October 25 2019 —
Last year, the University of Calgary Dinos men’s cross-country team made history, winning their first U Sports title. Nothing has stopped them, from the Canada West title — one of the four U Sports regional championships — to the coveted national honour. They’ve since gone back to work and are going to defend their title on Nov. 9 in Kingston, Ontario 9 at the exact same place they won one year ago. The first step in this battle, however, is Saturday’s Canada West Championships, at home in Calgary. On home turf, the Dinos should shine.
The team seems even stronger than the one that took the U Sports title in Kingston last year, confirmed by head coach Doug Lamont, named U Sports men’s coach of the year in 2018.
“We are stronger than last year. Our top 5 is considerably better,” affirmed Lamont. Russell Pennock, driving force of the team, came to the same conclusion.
“The talent on the team is amazing; you’re running with four or give guys who could be first team all Canadians,” he said.
On the one hand, the Dinos only lost Ryan Grieco. On the other, they have recruited Matthew Travaglini and enjoy Alex James’ return. Travaglini, a transfer from SAIT, was a competitor in the Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association (CCAA) Championships. James, absent last year, is back at his best level, which placed him fifth at U Sports’ nationals two years ago. With Pennock, 2018 USports bronze medalist, they form an impressive trident. By their side is the Paralympic Triathlon world champion Stefan Daniel, 10th at U Sports last year, and still as consistent as ever. These men achieved a wonderful show of strength for their last race at the Inland Empire Championships in Lewiston, Idaho, monopolizing the first four places. Eric Lutz, 9th at U Sports last year, wasn’t in Lewiston, but according to Lamont “he’s very fit right now.”
It should be recalled that the top five for each school score for the team classification, and that six and seven runners can be displaced by placing higher than other team scorers. Therefore, other Dinos will also have a role to play. The young Max Thiessen, named Canada West’s top rookie last year and part of the Canadian U20 Team at the World Cross-Country Championships, is on the rise. Tyler Kiyonaga, fifth place last year, is coming into form nicely. Jon Guidinger, Greg Ord and maybe Jan-Erik Naess will also have to be followed.
The team is impressive and their state of mind is irreproachable. Pennock —defending individual Canada West champion —is far from being individualistic.
“Winning another CanWest title would be nice, but it’s definitely not the priority. I am focused on racing hard for the team to win the CanWest title as a teamid,” he said.
Lamont humbly mentioned a few rivals —particularly UBC, but it’s not a secret that Canada West will be a formality for the Dinos.
“Not any CanWest team has a shot at taking the title away from us,” said Pennock.
This team is too talented and has too much depth to be beaten even if Pennock doesn’t underestimate the other teams, remembering that “every single coach and team wrote us off last year at nationals as not being a potential podium threat.”
The stars would have to be very misaligned not to see the Dinos triumph at Canmore Park on Saturday. Pennock even presented this race as being “more a test of fitness leading into U Sports.” U Sports at Kingston is the real team’s objective. Pennock is “aiming to get to the top,” but once again places the collective title first.
“If I happen to take the individual title as well that would just be a bonus,” he said.
Even though U Sports are already in everyone’s mind, the obligatory step at Canmore Park is taken seriously. Canada West Championships will serve as a very important dress rehearsal before the national championship. The Dinos will have the advantage to do it at home, avoiding a long trip. Both Pennock and Lamont aren’t feeling any pressure because of that —only advantages. The team know the route perfectly as they train there several times a week.
But, Pennock highlights some difficulties.
“We know how deceptively hard the course is and how if you go out too fast you will pay for it dearly in the second half,” he said.
For Doug Lamont, it is more the altitude which is going to help his runners.
“There is the advantage of training and competing at altitude,” he said. “Canmore Park is 1150m above sea level. Other teams are coming from lower elevations and sea level.”
This altitude could asphyxiate the opponents, who will also have to face an atmosphere that Pennock hopes to be “electric.”
“All of our friends and family can be there to cheer us on.”
Canmore Park will therefore gather all the conditions to have a great show Saturday with the Dinos men’s team as headliners.