ROWAN DEBUES/THE VARSITY

Swirling wind and rain provided a foreboding backdrop for the 2016 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Cross Country Championships on October 30. Nearly 200 athletes from 14 universities vied for glory, and they were supported by an energetic and passionate crowd of spectators and volunteers.

The women provided the first drama of the day. The starter pistol fired at 11:00 am, and the athletes ran a series of loops around Centennial Park in Etobicoke, racing 6km to the finish. A tight competition broke up on the final loop as a breakaway pack of seven athletes broke clear, led by Queen’s University’s Claire Sumner and Julie-Anne Staehli.

With one click to go, U of T rookie Lucia Stafford was at the back of the lead group. But at the 500m mark she let loose, aggressively kicking towards the finish. Stafford’s push caused a thrilling three-way sprint to the finish. In the end, Sumner outlasted her opponents, crossing in 20:16.7 with Stafford less than half a second behind her; a gutsy performance that earned Stafford OUA Women’s Rookie of the Year honours.

Guelph retained the OUA team title for a thirteenth consecutive season; the team was carried on the back of five athletes finishing in the top 14. Sumner’s first and Staehli’s third was enough for Queen’s to beat the Varsity Blues, who secured OUA bronze with Madeline Kelly and Jazz Shukla both winning second team all-star awards.

The weather refused to relent as the men took off on their 10km race at midday. A three man breakaway had already formed within the first three kilometres, as Windsor’s Corey Bellemore, Lakehead’s Kevin Tree, and Western’s Jack Sheffar pushed the pace. The trio were inseparable for much of the race, taking turns leading the way before Tree and Bellemore edged ahead of Sheffar. With under a mile to go, Bellemore made the decisive move in the duel, pulling away from Tree and finishing in 30:35.8.

In the men’s competition, Western upset the 11 time champions Guelph with a great all around team performance. With Bellemore’s win and top 15 performances by Alex Ulman and Andrew Nebel, Windsor slid past Guelph to steal silver.

The Varsity Blues men’s team finished sixth overall. Leading the Blues in the field was captain Sacha Smart who finished twenty-sixth overall. Special mention should be given to rookies Noah Defreyne, who finished thirty-fourth, and AJ Bimm, who finished fifty-eighth. Bimm found out moments before the women’s race started that he would be racing, after illness and injury ruled out Sam Kinahan and Riley Alvarez.

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