X-men take AUS gold in Point Pleas­ant Park race

X-women se­cure sec­ond place team fin­ish

The Casket - - Sports - SAM MACDON­ALD sam­mac­don­ald@the­cas­ket.ca

The com­pe­ti­tion was fierce Oct. 27 in Hal­i­fax’s Point Pleas­ant Park, but the St. F.X. X-men cross coun­try team came out on top of a closely con­tested race, run­ning to an AUS ban­ner at the Sub­way AUS Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships.

Head coach Eric Gillis said he was proud to see the per­for­mance, not­ing he had high ex­pec­ta­tions of St. F.X go­ing into the Satur­day af­ter­noon race.

"They went out there and ran to their full po­ten­tial as a team. We were neck-and-neck with Dal for a lot of the race," Gillis said, de­scrib­ing the race as a "nail biter." In ad­di­tion to their first-place team fin­ish, three of the top four run­ners were X-men.

The tip­ping point in the highly con­tested race was about two thirds of the way through, when St. F.X. achieved the up­per hand in points, by stay­ing the course and mak­ing a cou­ple of slick passes in the fi­nal stretch of the rugged trails of Point Pleas­ant Park.

"Our fourth run­ner, Ad­di­son [Der­hak] passed a cou­ple of Dal run­ners, and he moved up a cou­ple of spots in the last lap, which helped," Gillis said. "The fifth run­ner, the fi­nal scorer, Ai­den Do­herty, was able to hold off an­other UPEI rookie over the last 200 me­ters – it was a close fin­ish."

While Der­hak and Do­herty helped St. F.X. se­cure a tight lead over Dal, Gillis praised the com­pe­tent foot­work of all the X-men, not­ing they main­tained po­si­tions steadily through­out the race – some­thing that car­ried them to their first-place team fin­ish.

Gillis said, "Other run­ners from the other schools, like Me­mo­rial and UNB, they had guys that ended up pass­ing some Dal run­ners," some­thing that al­lowed St. F.X. main­tain its score, while Dal’s was af­fected.

X-men run­ner An­gus Rawl­ing was ti­tled 2018 cham­pion – the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win as AUS Ath­lete of the Year and all-star.

Gillis at­trib­uted that win­ning streak to a com­bi­na­tion of ded­i­cated train­ing and tech­ni­cal skill in the sport – in ad­di­tion to a con­stant de­sire on Rawl­ing’s part to im­prove and gain deeper in­sight and skill into the sport.

"[Rawl­ing] is also in­ter­ested in the sport – in what is hap­pen­ing in cross coun­try. He has pro­gressed since be­ing at St.

F.X., and is tak­ing more care of him­self as a run­ner, do­ing the things he needs to do to be healthy," Gillis said.

"[Rawl­ing] is will­ing to learn, try new things that are not al­ways what you would first con­sider as a way of get­ting bet­ter. Of­ten, we just think of run­ning harder as a way, or run­ning more, but he’s will­ing to try other things, that can make him bet­ter at re­cov­ery."

Gillis also praised Paul Maclel­lan of Antigo­nish for his high­est fin­ish at the AUS cham­pi­onships – a sign of his steady progress, and the fact that "he has been im­prov­ing his fin­ishes over the years."

The Oct. 27 first place fin­ish was the tenth ti­tle St. F.X. won in the AUS Men’s Cross Coun­try cham­pi­onships, and Gillis is proud to coach the time that won it.

"When I left [St. F.X.] as a stu­dent and ath­lete, we had not won any ti­tles. I won one as an in­di­vid­ual, but none as a team. When I came back for my first year as coach, X had al­ready won nine," Gillis said. "It was re­ally nice, as a new coach, to have that kind of suc­cess."

Gillis also praised past coach Bernie Chisholm for "gift­ing me a strong team."

X-women take sec­ond

Al­though the St. F.X. X-women cross coun­try team did not get the first-place fin­ish as a team they were af­ter, Gillis com­mended their solid per­for­mance – a per­for­mance that earned them sec­ond place as a team, in the AUS cham­pi­onships.

"The Dal team has been a par­tic­u­larly strong team this year – they were ranked fourth in the coun­try, go­ing into the AUS. We were as close as we were for us to be eight points back. We were pleased with the way we ran as a team."

"The Dal team were strong through­out, but com­ing into the last lap of the women’s race we were pretty close. It ended up be­ing a Dal rookie that had a re­ally good race, se­cur­ing the vic­tory," Gillis said.

This year’s win for Dal is its 25th AUS women’s cross coun­try ban­ner, and it marks the sixth con­sec­u­tive year they’ve fin­ished the cham­pi­onships with the ban­ner.

Gillis said many in­di­vid­ual run­ners on the team were close to, or ex­ceeded their race plan goals at Point Pleas­ant Park in the 8km run.

The X-women also fin­ished with four run­ners in the top ten; Hana Mar­mura, Zoe John­ston, Rachel Macdougall and Jane Her­gett.

"Hanna ex­ceeded her ex­pec­ta­tions and raced the way she wanted to for a long time,"

Gillis noted.

Gillis said the X-women ran a race that par­al­leled the per­for­mance of the X-men; a neckand-neck run against Dal, their fiercest com­pe­ti­tion.

The Course

The stakes were es­pe­cially high since the lo­ca­tion of the cham­pi­onship, Point Pleas­ant Park is a rugged, chal­leng­ing course.

"It’s chal­leng­ing be­cause of the un­even foot­ing. There is some ter­rain which can be quite rocky, and there are rocks stick­ing out of the ground that the run­ners need to be mind­ful of," Gillis said. "So, a rolled an­kle is a risk on that course."

In ad­di­tion to un­even foot­ing, the park, which juts into Hal­i­fax Har­bour, is known for its un­pre­dictable weather and of­ten windy con­di­tions – fac­tors that luck­ily didn’t come into play over the week­end.

"It was good cross coun­try weather," Gillis said.

In ad­di­tion to the weather be­ing good for the race, there was a great deal of sup­port, with fans, alumni and even ath­letic di­rec­tor Leo Macpher­son cheer­ing both the X-men and X-women – sup­port that was greatly ap­pre­ci­ated by the run­ners.


Gillis praised both the X-men and X-women for how quickly they adapted to the new train­ing reg­i­men he pre­pared for the sea­son.

"Both teams were brought into a coach­ing chal­lenge. I was coached by Bernie [Chisholm], I knew his train­ing, and it was good," Gillis said, "but any­time you have a coach that changes that to a new work­out, and new rou­tines and style," he noted it can be tough to adapt.

"They did a great job this year, of be­ing on the train­ing, com­mu­ni­cat­ing well to coaches and each other and get­ting ahead of things," Gillis noted. "They were great to be on top of re­cov­ery and time man­age­ment."

Gillis added it has been a busy sea­son for both teams, given that St. F.X. at­tended all the meets that took place this year, "and not all teams did that."

This rac­ing at ev­ery meet is a strat­egy Gills in­tends to bring for­ward into the 2019 sea­son. The train­ing reg­i­men he uses to pre­pare his run­ners, next year, for the cham­pi­onship, in fact, will be largely the same as this year’s, with im­prove­ments made upon it.

"We’ll race at all the AUS races, pro­gress­ing through the sea­son. "Well fo­cus on the cham­pi­onship race, putting it to­gether for that day."

Gillis is con­fi­dent his run­ners will be up for the chal­lenge, not­ing they have all been dili­gently pur­su­ing per­sonal goals, "hav­ing dif­fer­ent goals for dif­fer­ent races – and learn­ing from each one."

The next level of univer­sity cross coun­try com­pe­ti­tion, the U SPORTS na­tional cham­pi­onship meet, will take place Nov. 10 at Queen’s Univer­sity in Kingston, On­tario.


Paige Chisholm of Port Wil­liams, in the AUS fi­nals, Oct 27.

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