Joseph and Neigum golden at Canada West track and field championships

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“It was an amazing feeling. I had a huge smile on my face.”

The U of R Cougars track and field team is one of the fastest rising rosters in the country. In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the 2020 Canada West Championships, the Cougars put up another strong performance winning 11 medals, including two gold. They finished fourth in the women’s meet and sixth in the men’s competition.

The men’s team was led by another strong performance from their young stars. Rookie Scott Joseph highlighted the meet with his long jump. Joseph jumped an incredible 7.67m on his final attempt of the meet to secure the gold medal. The first-year’s mark is a new Cougar record, besting head coach Wade Huber’s mark of 7.53m from 2006. It also stands as a Saskatchewan open record and falls just four centimetres short of the Canadian under-20 record in the event. With his gold medal jump, Joseph leads U Sports and will be a medal favourite in Edmonton at the national championship. There he will have another crack at James McAndrew’s Canadian record, a mark which has stood since 1975. His teammate Ron Maclean talks about the electrifying jump.

“It was a storybook ending of a long jump – Scott was the last one to jump and he needed to PB [personal best] and break the record to win the competition and he got the clap going, then he jumped it and the crowd lost it. It was super cool; it gave me goosebumps.”

Joseph’s performances, including a follow up bronze medal in the triple jump earned him Canada West rookie of the year honours. This is the second straight year a Cougar has won the award as Joely Welburn won it in 2019.

Also winning a medal for the men was fellow rookie Ron Maclean. Maclean won a surprise bronze medal in the 1000m, an event that is new for the first-year Cougar.

“The one (kilometre) went better than expected on Friday. The race was nothing like I’ve experienced; it was bunched up – I think I was sitting in fifth the whole race until the last corner when I went by two guys and into third. It was a pleasant surprise.”

While Maclean has had a dominant year so far, the Canada West Championship was not without adversity for the rookie.

“I was a little bit disappointed with the 1500m, I was trying to lead that one. Leading a race can be mentally exhausting, and I hit a wall at like 800m and I just didn’t have the legs. I was pretty disappointed with the race, but the time wasn’t terrible, and I still scored but I’m definitely hoping to run better at Nationals.”

Maclean maintains his seventh-place U Sports ranking in that event with his Cougar record of 3:50.83 and will be in the hunt for a medal at nationals.

“Nats is one of the deepest years it has been – everyone in that top 12 ranking is like two seconds apart so it will be an interesting race for sure.”

While Maclean ranks ninth in U Sports with his 2:27.12, he will not compete in the 1000m at U Sports, favouring the longer 1500m run and the men’s 4×800m relay. Post conference championships, the Cougar men remain atop the U Sports rankings in the 4×800 relay and will look for a medal at nationals in Edmonton.

“We were excited to see if we stayed first in the rankings. We are all super excited for that, that’s definitely our main focus at nats.”

Joseph’s bronze medal triple jump of 14.56m was good enough for fifth in the National U Sports rankings, and together the men combined for a sixth-place finish at the meet, equalling their ranking from 2019.

On the women’s side, Kaila Neigum and Joely Welburn led the Cougars. Second year Welburn won two medals with her performances, winning bronze in the high jump and silver in the long jump. The Cougars added to their success with two more bronze medals courtesy of Erika Stockhorst in long jump and Alysson Edwards in the pentathlon.

On the track, the women’s 4×800 team of Robyn Ham, Michaela Allen, Kelsey Haczkewicz and Sarah Novakowski combined for another silver in the relay and Kaila Neigum won two medals for the Cougars, including a gold medal in the 3000m with her time of 4:38.47.

“My 3k was quite tactical. I knew the time I wanted to hit so I was on pace and I knew a lot of the girls couldn’t hit that pace. Three laps to go I was feeling really good, two laps to go I didn’t know I won it, but I had a feeling I did just by how good I felt and then the last lap I just went for it. It was an amazing feeling – I had a huge smile on my face.”

For Neigum the race was a perfect execution of a strategy that she usually doesn’t favour.

“It was the best kick of my life. I usually don’t have much of a kick, but for some reason in that race I did. Usually I like to push the middle laps of the race and take the kick out of the girls that have good kicks.”

The Regina local who attended Miller Comprehensive High School won her first Canada West medals in her third year of competition. In her first two years with the U of R, Neigum battled injury, so being healthy in 2020 was a key to her success.

“I think being injured did contribute to my improvement; not physically, but mentally. It’s a big mental barrier you have to overcome, and you have to figure out what your body needs to be healthy.”

Neigum also picked up a silver medal in the shorter 1500m run.

“I wanted to get that top-two spot because top two makes Nationals. It was an indoor PB which is nice, but I was going for the school record and I was less than a second off, so I want to hit that at Nationals.”

While the messy qualification process for U Sport Nationals hasn’t been completed yet, the Cougars will likely be bringing 16-20 athletes to U Sports championships in Edmonton. This includes a number of first-time qualifiers such as Kaila Neigum who qualified via her podium performances.

“I’ve been to nationals twice, but both as alternate for the 4×800 team, so I haven’t actually experienced competing – its exciting.”

For Maclean, the last few weeks before nationals will be about tuning the details and making sure they have enough in the tank at the finish

“Next couple weeks we are working more on our speed so when it comes down to it at U Sports, we have a little more strength.”

At last year’s national championship, the Cougars picked up two medals, but this year they have the firepower to compete for more. They head into nationals with Scott Joseph ranked first in the high jump and have another first place ranking in the men’s 4×800m relay. They also have top-five seeds from Welburn and Amou Madol. Notably, Regina track and field product Vaughn Taylor of Victoria is also seeded first in the 600m run. The Cougars will be in action in Edmonton March 5-7.

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