Honor Walmsley (right) competes at Queen's University. Courtesy Varsity Blues.

The University of Toronto’s women’s cross-country team placed fourth in the OUA championship held on October 31 at the University of Waterloo. Prior to the competition, fourth-year kinesiology student Honor Walmsley and third year English and anthropology student Maddy Kelly, the co-captains of the women’s team, discussed their plans and goals for the season, as well as the versatility of cross-country as a sport.       

Earlier this season at the Vic Matthews open in Guelph, and the Western International Invitational in London the women placed fourth and fifth respectively. The team then traveled south to compete against some of the top schools in the United States at the Greater Louisville Classic in Kentucky where they finished third, before competing two weeks later at the Queen’s Open — again finishing third.

The Louisville competition was truly remarkable considering the higher degree of difficulty of competing in the United States. The main difference however, was not due to the superiority of American runners, but rather due to the mental challenges runners face in the field.       

“In Louisville there’s like 500 runners and in the entire race you’re just swarmed. I find it hard to focus. But at Queen’s by the last two kilometers there was nobody 10 seconds in front of me or 20 seconds behind me; I was basically alone,” said Walmsley. The women’s team is composed of many of the same athletes who will be on the track and field team in the spring semester. In fact, the majority of the cross-country team is built for the shorter distances of track and field: “we’re basically a cross-country team of 800m runners, so everyone really wants to do track,” said Kelly. While the captains have stated that their personal goals are placing in the top 25, or top 20 on a good day, at the CIS championship, they realize that a similar team result will be challenging this season.         

“We lost Colleen [Hennessy] which was huge… Colleen’s like a world class cross-country runner, so we lost her, and Kelly [Hennessy] was a big scorer for us that we lost as well, just due to injury, and we have a young team,” explained Kelly.        

Seven of the 14 members of the team are first-years this season, and because adjusting to university life can be difficult, Walmsley and Kelly are empathetic to the student-athlete struggle — but don’t want any of the rookies to count themselves out. “We’re trying to [instill in them that] we need you for this team because two of our scores are going to be first years’, [and to] just believe in yourself and enjoy the experience at the same time,” said Walmsley.

Bolstered by a triumphant individual OUA performance by third-year runner Gabriela Stafford who won the competition, Walmsley and Kelly believe that in spite of the team’s youth, they will be a force to be reckoned with during the season-ending competitions. Of course, if that is not the case, there’s always the track season to look forward to.

The men’s and women’s cross-country teams will compete in the CIS championships on November 14 in Guelph.

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