The Blues women’s cross country team pose with their 2017 U SPORTS championship banner. COURTESY OF APSHUTTER.COM

The Varsity Blues women’s cross country team won the U SPORTS Cross Country Championships in Victoria, BC last weekend, defeating the 13-year running champion Guelph Gryphons. The victory marked the first time in 15 years that the Blues have won.

On a rainy day, the Blues were pitted against top universities from across the country — their main opponents were the Queen’s Gaels and the Gryphons. It was through the Blues’ consistency in remaining in the top five that let them inch closer and closer to the front of the pack, finally leading to a first-place win.

Sasha Gollish, the oldest member of the Varsity Blues team, placed first overall with a time of 27 minutes and 37 seconds. This feat earned her the title of U SPORTS Athlete of the Year and a position with the U SPORTS First Team All-Canadians.

Blues member Lucia Stafford, who ran at 28 minutes and 18 seconds, also qualified for U SPORTS First Team All-Canadians honours. “Due to the fact that it isn’t the most spectator friendly sport, many students at U of T don’t even know that their women’s team just won the national championships – breaking Guelph’s 13 year winning streak and making history,” said Stafford in an email.

Stafford represented Team Canada at the 2016 Under-20 World Track and Field championships, and she was named 2017 Rookie of the Year. She also competed for Canada at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. “We truly became a team this year. Every workout we’d be working together, having fun along the way. We all believed in each other, especially our captain Maddy and coaches Terry and Ross. We knew we had something special and so for what felt like the first time for me, we ran for each other with the title in mind.”

The second-year engineering student beat out many veteran runners in BC and will likely continue to be a strong contender in future races as she continues both her educational and athletic careers at the University of Toronto. “This year has been very exciting and telling for our future,” said Stafford. “The Toronto team has now established itself as a serious and talented program, and intends to keep up this trend. With amazing coaches, training, and facilities, I hope that will continue.”

Starting in 1963 with the men’s competition and continuing with the 1980 women’s competition, the U SPORTS Cross Country Championships honour the best running teams in the country at the national meet. Teams from all over Canada qualified for this year’s race, with an overall participation of about 151 members.

The average time for the meet was 31 minutes and 24 seconds over a distance of eight kilometres, which was changed from the previous six-kilometre race that took place last year. Looking forward, Stafford explained her wariness of the increasing race length moving up another two kilometres from eight kilometres to the male distance of 10 kilometres.

“As a middle distance track athlete with a team mainly consisting of middle distance specialists, it won’t make sense to train for 10km cross country when our main focus is track and the shorter events,” said Stafford. Though she may have few doubts, she seems confident in her team and their abilities.

The women’s team continue to look to lengthen their winning streak and continue to build on their strong foundation.

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