After top performances at the Cougar Trot, Sled Dog Open and Stewart Cup, the Huskies cross-country team looks ahead to the U Sports championship with optimism. The race is set to happen on Nov. 10 in Kingston, Ont.
The Huskies will send a women’s team and three runners from the men’s team to the U Sports championship.
In Kingston, all eyes will be on Courtney Hufsmith. The third-year marketing student and star of the women’s team has won all three season races that she has competed in so far. According to Head Coach Jason Reindl, this puts her in a position to win the U Sports title.
“She will be racing to win and be the best woman in the country,” Reindl said. “We are very confident that she will be able to challenge for a national title.”
Hufsmith has had her sights set on the title from the start — she pointed to this in a September interview with the Sheaf. Now close to reaching her goal, she feels as confident as ever.
“I’m feeling really good,” Hufsmith said. “Nobody can put on more pressure than I already have on myself. Right now, it’s a matter of making sure I stay that motivated throughout this next week.”
The competing women’s team is made up of Hufsmith, Courtney Moffat, Hillary Mehlhorn, Natalia Bidulka and Huskies rookies Sydney Neufeld and Dezeray Wapass. The women’s team has already finished second in two major races against Canada West competitors. Reindl hopes they will improve on last year’s results at the U Sports championship, where they finished 20th.
“As a female team, we are looking to be top twelve in the country,” Reindl said. “It’s going to be a tough battle, but we could also get top three on Canada West.”
From the men’s team, the Huskies are sending runners Jared Welsh, Taryn Heidecker and Jon Fernandes to the championship. It won’t be enough athletes to make up a team, but Reindl says it’s an improvement.
“It’s three more than we had last year, and it’s been a huge step in terms of building a program and looking forward to the future,” Reindl said. “On the men’s side, we’d like to have three guys in the top 60 of the country.”
Welsh, a fifth-year regional and urban planning student, has been the top Huskie on the men’s side in all three races. He says the additions to the men’s side are behind the improved performance of the men’s team.
“Last year, I didn’t use eligibility — I was kind of injured — and Taryn [Heidecker] and Jon [Fernandes] weren’t on the Huskies,” Welsh said. “This year, we have five guys at practice, and having that company in the workouts and on long runs is really helpful.”
Welsh hasn’t reached his season goal of running a personal best yet, but he is optimistic about his chances to reach it in the championship race.
“I’d still like to run a personal best,” Welsh said. “I feel like Kingston is a good course to do that at — I’ve run the course twice before.”
The cross-country team’s performance has been strong all throughout the season, and they intend to ride that momentum to the end. In better shape than last year, with well-performing rookies and their eyes on the prize from the beginning, the team’s chances are looking good.
Reindl points to the commitment of the runners as the reason behind this season’s success.
“We raised the bar pretty early this year in terms of competitiveness, training and performance,” Reindl said. “The athletes understood that, if they wanted to reach those big team goals, they needed to commit.”
Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer
Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor