BURLINGTON, Ont. - As runners from 17 schools converge on Malden Park in Windsor, Ont. this weekend for the 2017 Cross Country Championships, Guelph’s women’s squad will look to once again sit atop the standings, while their men’s team will strive to start a new championship streak after the Western Mustangs pulled out the 2016 title win.

Details surrounding the event can be found in the 2017 Cross Country Championship Fan Guide.

It was truly a banner performance from the Mustangs in 2016, dethroning the 11-time reigning champs with an impressive 53 points, followed by silver from Windsor (60 points), and bronze for Guelph (72 points). On the women’s side, however, it was business as usual for the Gryphons, who claimed their 13th consecutive title with a 46 point total – 12 clear of silver-medalist Queen’s (58 points) and 15 ahead of third place Toronto (63 points).

On the heels of their impressive 2016 showing, the Mustangs have positioned themselves well for a repeat performance in 2017. Both the men’s and women’s sides end the season ranked in the top-10 nationally, coming in at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. Helping to solidify these rankings were terrific team performances at the Marauder Bayfront Open (M = 2nd place; W = 4th place); the Louisville Classic, where both squads set schools records; and the Bill Salter Western Invitational (M = 4th place; W = 2nd place).

Among the individual athletes to watch, all eyes for Western will be on Kristina Popadich, who finished 5th at the 2016 championships en route to First Team All-Star honours, and Jack Sheffar, the third-place finisher and OUA All-Star in 2016 as well.

Looking to build the impressive streak to 14, the Gryphons will be led by plenty of runners with international experience; something that should go a long way in championship action. Among the notables for Guelph are fourth-year captain Charlotte Ward, third-year Danielle Jossinet, and fourth-year Sarah Wismer, with the latter two finishing 3rd and 4th, respectively, at the recent Marauder Bayfront Open.

Joining them on the men’s side, meanwhile, will be fourth-year captain Connor Black, who came out of the gates on fire to start the season. Black won the Queen’s Cross Country Invitational (25:03) and also finished 2nd at the Princeton Invitational, just 2.4 seconds behind the top performer. Rounding out the male notables are Mark Patton, Josh Kellier, and Benjamin Workman, each of whom will look to help Guelph bounce back from their surprising third place finish last year.

After the silver medal performance in 2016 from the men, the Lancers will look to do one better this year as the host school – their first such duties in 20 years. Both the men’s and women’s squads will look to put forth a strong showing on their home turf, with each team having already tallied medal-winning performances on the year. The women took home the title at the Bradley Invitational, thanks in large part to fifth-year senior Stefanie Smith (1st place, Women’s Open 6km race), and the 2016 All-Canadian will undoubtedly be one to watch at championships.

The men’s squad earned themselves a bronze medal finish at the Bill Salter Invitational after being led by an individual third-place finish from fourth-year newcomer Alexandre Cyr (25:15 over 8km). Top-ten finishes from fellow Lancers Joe Kagumba (7th) and Andrew Nebel (8th) shows that not only is the men’s side capable, but deep; something they will look to translate into similar success on championship weekend.

Proving to be a threat all season long once again were the Queen’s Gaels, who will be looking to dethrone the perennial powerhouse Gryphons in Windsor. The team, whose women’s side ranks No. 1 in the nation, certainly has the pedigree to do so, as they are led by defending OUA and USPORTS champion, Claire Sumner. Sumner won the Queen’s Invitational earlier in the year, and she will be joined by teammate Branna MacDougall, who earned the Western Invitational title, as threats to score this weekend.

The Varsity Blues, who earned bronze on the women’s side just one year ago, will also be looking to find the podium once again in Windsor, and will do so on the heels of a strong regular season. The team claimed gold at the Marauder Bayfront Open, while also picking up bronze at their opening race (Western Invitational).

While Toronto’s women’s team boasts a deep roster, the Blues will be led by 2017 NACAC cross country champion Sasha Gollish. Gollish, who was named the 2014-15 University of Toronto T-Holders’ athlete of the year, returns for her fifth and final year of eligibility. She claimed the 2016 Pan Am cross country silver medal and was a member of the Canadian team at the 2017 world cross country championships as well. Joining Golish is sophomore standout, Lucia Stafford, who ran the Blues top results last season, en route to being named the OUA female rookie of the year. The talented U of T team also includes 2016 OUA all-stars Madeleine Kelly and Jazz Shukla.

The U of T men will be looking to take another step forward with their young, motivated squad, building on their recent bronze medal finish at McMaster. Third-year standouts Craig Klomp and Robert Lawand will lead the pack for the Blue and White, with both looking to better their top-30 results from a season ago.

McMaster, who finished top five in both men’s and women’s competition at last year’s championships, will be looking for similarly strong results this time around. Pacing the Marauders on the men’s side is fifth-year veteran and 2016 All-Canadian Jeff Tweedle, who recently took home the win at the inaugural Marauder Bayfront Open. Along with the likes of Sergio Raez-Villanueva, who was Mac’s top runner at the University of Buffalo Stampede, and rookie Max Turek, who has 4th and 5th place finishes under his belt this year, the Marauders should have a strong contingent this weekend in Windsor.

On the women’s side, former Western Mustang Melissa Caruso is the school’s top scorer, finishing fifth at the Bayfront Open, while veteran Emily Nowak, who is in her final year with Mac, should also be a top-three scorer come championship weekend.

Ryerson, who has plenty of room for improvement on last year’s championship results, will turn to third-year runner Michael Konstantopoulos and Ph.D. student Sylvie Antoun to lead the charge, with both runners finishing tops for the Rams at each race this season, including 27th and 28th place finishes, respectively, at the Don Mills Open at Waterloo.  

Also seeing strong results from the Don Mills Open were the hometown teams from Waterloo. Both the Warriors men’s and women’s sides finished second on the day, with Alyssa Randall claiming 4th spot for the women and Felix Lawson crossing in 7th for the men. These two, among a host of fellow Warriors runners, will look to translate this in-season success to build on their 2016 8th place finishes at the championships.

Looking across town to the Laurier Golden Hawks, the fellow Waterloo-based school will be relying on top threats Joe Sheridan on the men’s side and Bettina Boucher for the women. Sheridan was 43rd at last year’s championships and is coming off a 20th place finish at the Marauder Bayfront Open, while Boucher (the 24th place finisher in 2016) will look to build off of her 16th place finish at the McMaster event.

The Lions, meanwhile, may not be looking at a podium finish, but do have a couple runners to keep an eye on this weekend. On the women’s side, the team will look to 2016 team MVP, Vaishnavy Yogarajah, who finished at the top for York in all four regular season meets. For the men, the focus will be on Ali Ghadghoni, who is new to the Lions this year, but earned Athlete of the Week honours for York after his fifth place finish in Waterloo.

Looking to bring a championship to Algoma, the Thunderbirds will turn to a pair of young runners to lead the charge. For the men, second-year athlete Aksel Pollari will be making his second appearance at the championships this time around and will look to build on his 2016 showing. First-year Talyn Tait, meanwhile, is eager to take part in her first championships, and will be looking to continue her steady improvement over the longer distances this season.  

Lakehead University will enter the field with top-20 hopeful Rebekkah Pyle. The first-year runner put together a terrific debut at the university level this season, placing in the top-20 in her last three races (including 12th, 13th, and 19th place finishes, respectively).

Mirroring these expectations, meanwhile, will be the contingent from Nipissing University, which features a pair of school record breakers at the front of the pack. Saree Sasson finished atop the women’s standings for Nipissing all season long, rewriting the Lakers’ history books with a number of top times. Jordan Cascagnette also made history for the Lakers, as the multi-sport athlete claimed top spot for Nipissing at each of their races this season as well.

Rounding out the field of runners at the 2017 Cross Country Championships – which will kick off with the Alumni Race at 9:30am before the Women’s (8km) and Men’s (10km) races get underway at 11:00 am and 12:00 pm, respectively – will be athletes from: Brock University, Trent University, and Laurentian University.