How the cross country team is coping after losing some high profile athletes.
If you’ve been following the U of R’s cross country team at all, the name Kelly Wiebe will definitely ring a bell. As you may also know, he concluded his time as a Cougar last season.
So how does a team move on when their star athlete is no longer at hand?
Though the most notable effect of Wiebe being gone will be the loss of that expected automatic one point, but newly appointed team captain and fourth-year runner Matt Johnson is hopeful.
“Losing Kelly was obviously a big hit to the team,” he said. “But on the bright side, everybody is stepping up to fill the gap.”
And surrounding the absence of Wiebe, as well the departure of seniors Iain Fyfe and the women’s dominating runner Karissa LePage, there is a silver lining – there are no senior runners on the team this year.
Therefore, if they are able to steer clear of injuries, Johnson says all the athletes will likely be returning for the 2014-15 season.
According to Johnson, the team’s training and attitude has changed significantly as well.
“Because [Wiebe] was so far ahead and that much better it was hard to do any off-day runs because it would be so up tempo for us,” Johnson said. “[As team captain], it’s about telling people you don’t rely on that number one guy anymore, and that the fifth place guy is definitely one of the most important.”
Johnson added that this loss creates a better team dynamic moving forward because “everyone is a little closer now with ability.”
He also pointed out that the team’s focus was never to just be happy with placing second behind Wiebe, but rather that he was on a totally different level than the rest of the team.
“The great thing about having him on the team was it kind of showed us how to train,” he said.
As well, the long line of injuries Wiebe experienced was something Johnson used to grow personally as an athlete.
“It proved what your body can take before falling apart,” Johnson said. “It was something to see and learn from.”
There is also much excitement on the team about having fourth-year runner Wyatt Baiton back from injuries that took him out for majority of last season. As well as second-year Adam Strueby who Johnson says is back with a vengeance.
“I think [Strueby] wants it more than anybody else and he will definitely make some pretty good gains this year,” said the captain.
As for the women, this season is all about the rookies rounding out the team.
“A full girl’s team has always been the goal and has always been a struggle at the U of R,” said Johnson. “So now they finally have a good group of girls they can start building on, which is very exciting.”
However, the impact of losing key athletes can put any team off the radar, which Johnson said he is fine with.
“I don’t really mind being the underdog or the dark horse coming in,” adding that the top four male athletes they have are very strong competitors to be the returning Canada West champions from Victoria.
That is why this year’s team motto being “just grind” is so fitting. If they continue to work hard and build up together, this season–and next–are looking to be just as promising as years prior.
So, although the Cougar’s cross country team may at first appear to be in trouble without the U of R Male Athlete of the Year, U of R President’s Award winner and Olympic hopeful, life without Wiebe is looking to be much easier than we originally thought.
Photos courtesy of Arthur Ward.