Kicking dust in Canada’s face

They’re young, they’re inexperienced, and this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Yet here they are, on top when the dust has settled–national champions.

“It was a shock at first, but now it’s a pretty nice feeling,” smiles Canada West Rookie of the Year and Dinos women’s cross country team member Heather Sim. “It’s nice being number one.”

Spending the majority of the 2003 season hovering around fifth in the nation, the Dinos surprised a number of East Coast schools with their strong showing. Despite a CIS preview article seeding them second behind Queen’s University, they still feel as though they caught a number of schools by surprise.

“They were probably caught off guard because they hadn’t see what we were truly capable of,” explains Dinos Head Coach and CIS Coach of the Year Doug Lamont. “We hadn’t run against many of the top teams in the country, so nobody really knew how good we were.

“Well, other than us,” he adds with a laugh.

CIS First Team All Canadian and individual bronze medallist Shannon Slater agrees.

“In our last three practices we realized we were definitely going to medal, that things were falling together,” she recalls. “The plane ride out and the day before the race we were pumped and had high expectations.”

Expectations were also high for the men’s squad, however the team’s results didn’t match that of their female counterparts, as they finished a somewhat disappointing eighth. A silver lining for the men at the Sat., Nov. 8 meet in Moncton, New Brunswick was the second place finish for veteran runner and captain, Nathan Kendrick.

“I’m still pretty much on cloud nine,” he beamed. “I was, of course, training to win, but I think I made all the right decisions in the race and had basically the best race of my life–nationals are obviously the time to do that.”

The lack of team success did leave a bit of a bitter taste in the fifth-year Dinos’ mouth however.

“It is [disappointing], since cross country has such a team atmosphere, especially compared to track,” he laments. “But I know my guys ran their butts off, and many had incredible races, so I’m happy for them. It’s hard to ask for more.

“Eighth in the country is still something to be proud of.”

While the varsity season may have drawn to a close, the performances by both Kendrick and Slater earned them spots on the national squad, meaning they’ll be competing for a while longer–most notably at the FISU World University Championships in Collegno, Italy in March 2004. For now, however, Slater is content to soak up the joy of a national title and look optimistically towards next season.

“Because we have such a young team and all seven of us are returning next year I think we have just as much of an opportunity to get the same result,” the third-year Dino enthuses. “The difference is, people will know about us next year.”

Lamont is content to take the triumph in stride, going about his business, humbly accepting praise from his fellow coaches and members of the campus community. He quips “you’re only as good as your last championship” and, after taking a breather, it’s back to business.

“This year we were meant to be national champions. Now we have to do the same thing next year,” he says matter-of-factly. “The greatest thing is we have seven or eight other girls chomping at the bit, wanting a piece of the team. It won’t be an easy squad to make.”

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