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Cougars track and field team go hunting in Seattle

Ian McLellan (left) and Dustin Steininger (right) racing down the Fieldhouse track lanes./Arthur Ward
Ian McLellan (left) and Dustin Steininger (right) racing down the Fieldhouse track lanes./Arthur Ward

Canada or America, Cougars ready to perform with the lights on bright

With the track team’s indoor season just over halfway finished, the early returns look promising. Tevaughn Campbell (of Rams and Cougars fame) sits atop of the national standings in his primary event, the 60-metre dash, Fourth-year Ahmed Alkabary holds the second highest long jump in the country this year at 7.26m, Joy Becker has jumped 5.93m in the women’s event, and Merissa Margetts is currently fourth in Canada in the women’s 60-metre dash. On top of all that, a number of Cougar records have been broken this season, including the aforementioned Margetts (7.53 seconds in the 60-metre dash) and weight throw competitor Elisabeth Fortier with a 16.04m effort. Most recently, at last weekend’s Bison Classic in Winnipeg Manitoba, Matt Johnson set the Cougars record in the 1500-metre race with a mark of 3:56.09 and added a gold in the 3000-metre race.

With both the Men’s and Women’s teams ranked tenth in the country, their successes have come largely at western Canadian contests. Thus far, the team’s meets have been hosted in the regular haunts of Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. On Feb. 13-14, however, a section of the team will be travelling to a (comparatively) more exotic locale: Seattle, Washington.

They will be going south of the border to compete at the Husky Classic, a key meet in the American track and field schedule that is hosted annually by the University of Washington. Seventeen athletes, two coaches, and a trainer will be making the trek down to the evergreen state to represent the U of R. The remaining athletes, totaling around thirty-five, will stay behind to compete in an event at the Regina Fieldhouse where those remaining will compete against select athletes from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Manitoba, among others.

The fact that the Cougars have the opportunity to travel to such a high-level meet stems from two different sets of circumstances, says coach Bruce McCannel.

“The event in Seattle is an opportunity for our team that came up for a couple of reasons – one is scheduling. What we try to do is if our team’s going to travel to a competition, whether it’s in the NCAA or somewhere else in the CIS such as the OUA, we try to make sure that it’s on a weekend when we are also hosting a meet so that we can plan to have athletes competing in both places at the same time” explained the coach.

“It’s important to make sure that scheduling fits,” he went on. “The other part of it is that the U of R has received funding from PotashCorp and that funding is to be used to create opportunities for student-athletes that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and so sending a portion of our team to Seattle is one of those opportunities. Also, with our cross-country team, we were able to send them down to the Roy Griak meet down in the NCAA [the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis Minnesota] so we’ve been able to get two competitive opportunities in the NCAA that typically we wouldn’t have had funding to do because of the donation from PotashCorp. ”

Indeed, during last weekend’s basketball games at the CKHS, it was announced that PotashCorp would again be donating $150,000 to the University’s various athletic programs, as they did in 2013.

The benefits of being the team able to attend the event, says coach McCannel, are two-fold.

“One is that it is very highly competitive meet. It’s a competition where there’s going to be a number of athletes there that’ll be performing at a high level. It would be a meet in comparison to our CIS National Championships.”

It is rare, says McCannel, for the U of R’s track squad to face such high-level competition.

“Typically, athletes on our team are only going to see that level of competition at the CIS Championships and for some events, they aren’t even going to see as a high a level at the CIS Championships as there will be at this meet down in Seattle.”

To give this some context, the meet’s “B standard” for the Men’s 3000M event is eight minutes and seventeen seconds. This mark is one that only seven CIS athletes have reached this year. The estimated automatic qualification mark in the 60M is 6.95 seconds, with the same amount of athletes reaching the standard in Canada. Part of the reason this meet is so attractive to high-level athletes is because of the facilities provided by the University of Washington. The event, with its 370-metre track, appeals to the best of those in the NCAA, the CIS, as well as some professional runners.

The Cougars won’t be the CIS’ only representatives. Athletes from the University of Guelph, UVIC, and Trinity Western University will also be attending. The second benefit for this year’s team is that the meet provides an opportunity for the team to compete against people they haven’t had a chance to before.

“When competing in CanWest, we see a lot of the same schools and same athletes every weekend. We get used to competing against the same people, and by taking people out of that element and putting them in races against people they haven’t competed against before, it adds to their preparation.” says McCannel.

The Cougars will look to continue to improve on their number ten national ranking and add to their extensive medal haul (with thirteen being picked up at last weekend’s Bison Classic, alone) as the season works towards its conclusion. With a third of their season left to go (including the Husky Classic), the team looks to be in good shape. For more information on the playoff lives of your favourite Cougar team, turn to our coverage on page 3A of the sports section.

 

About John Loeppky

I am an athlete with a writing problem, or a writer with a sports problem, you decide. When I’m not editing, playing wheelchair sports, or advocating for the disabled, you can find me de-stressing with friends.