The Huskies cross-country teams got their 2017 campaigns underway on Sept. 16 in Regina at the annual Cougar Trot. The men’s and women’s teams each had strong performances from multiple runners, and it’s a solid stepping stone for the Huskies as they go forward.
On the men’s side, Stephane Gerard was the top runner for the Huskies with a respectable ninth-place finish. Gerard, a fifth-year arts and science student, narrowly edged out teammate Stefano Zanotto by a mere 1.15 seconds. Zanotto, a second-year agriculture and bioresources major, had a solid race that placed him at 10th in the event, resulting in two Huskies within the top 10.
The men’s team will aim to improve on this performance for their upcoming home event on Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, Courtney Hufsmith stole the show on the women’s side, placing first at the Trot and improving on her fourth-place finish last year in Regina.
“For this race, my coach just wanted me to take it easy, but it felt very good and comfortable! The race plan was to tempo the first [four kilometres] and then go for it the last [two kilometres], and I was glad that I could execute that,” Hufsmith said, in online correspondence with the Sheaf.
The second-year business student had a strong summer, placing well in multiple competitions, and showed no layover, dominating in her return to the U Sports stage. During her time away from U Sports, she won a gold medal in the 1,500-metre event at the Canadian National Championships in Ottawa, along with a bronze in that same event at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.
Hufsmith will look to build on her strong start when she competes at the Huskies annual home event, the Sled Dog Open on Sept. 30 in Saskatoon.
“I am very excited for our home meet! This will be my first [eight-kilometre] race since they increased the girls’ distance this year, so I’m hoping to maintain or even improve upon the pace I went in Regina,” Hufsmith said.
Hufsmith is excited about the group they have going forward. Among the 18 runners on the squad, six are rookies and 12 are vets. The large number of returnees will aid in the process of getting the first-year runners comfortable early on.
“So far, I think this is one of the strongest teams that the Huskies have had in a few years for girl’s cross country. We are also very young with many rookies on the team, so I truly believe this group has a lot of potential,” Hufsmith said.
As for her personal goals, Hufsmith echoes that avoiding illness will be her key to success.
“[In the] past, I have had many seasons shortened due to sickness. So, I’m hoping I can make it through this season healthy and compete well at nationals,” Hufsmith said.
Amy Severtson and Lindsay Balezantis each captured top-five finishes, placing fourth and fifth respectively. Balezantis, a first-year arts and science student, made an immense impression in her U Sports debut.
The women’s team is currently ranked 14th in national rankings and will look to build upon that as the season goes on. Hufsmith and the Huskies women’s team will also aim to improve on last year’s 17th-place finish at nationals, when they travel to Victoria to compete against the top schools in the country on Nov. 11.
After the Sled Dog Open, the Huskies will have one more tune-up race at the Stewart Cup in Calgary on Sept. 28 before making the trek to nationals.
Come out and cheer on the Huskies on Sept. 30 at Victoria Park in the only home race of the season for the cross-country team.
Photos: Pearl Masa