Thunder Cross Country Running Host Season Opening Grand PrixPosted on: Sep 15, 2014
The 2014 ACAC Cross Country season got going on Saturday with the North schools racing at the Running Room Open XC meet held out at the Strathcona Wilderness Center in Ardrossan. In attendance were full teams from NAIT, Augustana and Lakeland along with a few individual runners from Keyano and Grande Prairie. The race also served as the first race of the 2014 Saucony XC series and featured most of the top senior club/open athletes from the Edmonton area.
The ladies were up first in the 4km race which saw a fast pace set early on by two former national cross country team members. Thunder Women's team Captain Marriya Jenkins got stuck in the top 5 early on along with last year's ASAA high school senior champion, Mirelle Martins, now running for Grande Prairie and another Grande Prairie runner Jamie Wigmore who was the Wolves top runner last year. In the end, Martins proved a touch too fast on the day for Jenkins but Marriya still managed to easily finish as the 2nd ACAC runner on the day. Head coach Matt Norminton was pleased with Jenkins race: "I worked the team very hard these past couple of weeks. It's early season and Marriya is the fittest aerobically she has ever been. She hasn't raced since indoors so she's a bit rusty but I know she'll be ready come the end of October." Marriya was last year's CCAA Bronze Medalist, missing out on the gold medal by less than 1 second in the closest race in the history of the CCAA XC Championships. Second year runner Shelby Edgar was the next Thunder lady across the line, running what Norminton felt was her best XC race since joining the team last year. Edgar moved into #2 all time on the Thunder's 4km ranking, moving ahead of team alumni Kristen Hansen (now competing for NAIT) over the 4km distance and finishing just behind Hansen in Saturday's race. The next 3 Thunder women across the line were all rookies competing for the first time for the Thunder XC team. 1st year student Ana Zulic finished in 9th place out of the ACAC runners, followed by Kristina Dong (former Thunder Women's Soccer team player) and Rachel Smillie (nationally ranked Thunder Badminton player). "The rookies ran fantastic," said newly appointed Assistant Coach Tom Fleming. Norminton agreed: "With these 3 rookies plus Shelby and Marriya, the girls can challenge for a team medal at the ACAC Champs this year." The Thunder ladies finished first out of the ACAC teams, beating out a strong NAIT team by 10 points.
Up next was the men's 6km race and there wasn't much doubt that the men would be challenging for the team win, despite missing last year's ACAC Bronze Medalist/SAIT transfer Kenton Sportak due to injury. "The boys have been looking great in practice and on paper they should challenge for the overall team win at the ACAC Champs this year," enthused Norminton. Rookie recruit Michael Quick from Calgary led the way for the Thunder men and in the process became only the 2nd Thunder XC runner to ever beat head coach Matt Norminton! True to his name, Quick finished 3rd out of the ACAC runners on the day, running the 2nd fastest time ever by a Thunder runner over the 6km distance. Impressively, UofA transfer student/former ACAC Bronze Medalist Kirk Sundt was just behind Quick as the 4th ACAC finisher. "Man, Kirk is one tough runner," added Fleming. "That's quite a 1-2 punch for now until Kenton gets healthy," mused Norminton. Sundt also managed to beat head coach Norminton in this one. "I have a feeling I'll be updating our records often this year with this team." Co-captains Kevin Chambers and Ben Thomas were next across the line in 5th and 6th. With the men finishing 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th out of the ACAC runners, they easily picked up the team win, beating out UofA Augustana by 9 points. "The boys were spread out by just over 1 minute. If we keep that sort of gap between our 1st and 5th guy, we'll put 5 guys into the top 20 at the ACAC Champs and if we can do that, we'll be very tough to be beat," said Norminton. "Ben has improved a ton since last year and Kevin was a bit sick for this one so he'll be a lot closer to Mike and Kirk when he's healthy."
The Thunder teams travel to Fort McMurray on Saturday to race at the Keyano Open meet on what will be the 2014 ACAC Championship course.
Photo Courtesy of Pam-Wes Thomas