Okotoks runners got a kick out of a cross-country provincial to remember.
“We had 11 athletes qualify which I think is our highest number yet,” said Falcons cross-country coach Kathryn Strilchuk. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was honestly magical, the zone that put it on had infused First Nations culture throughout the whole day.”
The Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association Provincial Cross Country Championships were hosted Oct. 15 by the maskekosak kiskinomatowikamik (kitaskinaw Education Authority) & Ever Active Schools on the Enoch Cree Nation.
The championships were held in a First Nation community for just the second time in the history of the cross-country finals.
At the starting and finish line, elders drummed along with dancers in full regalia in between the races.
“I was quite impressed with that,” said Falcons Grade 12 Josh Heuver. “It was really good insight into what First Nations culture is like up there.
“It certainly did give a whole different atmosphere to the event there, one which I thought really tied the whole day together.”
The Heuver brothers continued to make their mark on the provincial running scene with Grade 10 Nathan marking his debut at the competition with a 10th place finish.
Josh finished seventh in the senior boys event with the eldest Jacob, a Foothills alumnus.
“I expected (Nathan) to be a little nervous, the first year for me I was certainly nervous going into it,” Josh said. “I think he handled it a little better than me. I told him it was going to be fast, it’s the province so everyone is in there.
“But I think he did great.”
From watching his brothers compete, to taking in the experience first-hand, Nathan said the race went very well despite the lack of elevation changes on the course.
“I started off extremely fast and didn’t expect everyone to be going that fast and slowly I eased into a faster pace as I realized there were zero hills on the course,” Nathan said. “I’m a pretty good hill runner myself and I could have benefited from their being hills on the course.”
The junior boys trio of Heuver, Nash Byam (20th) and Brock Felker (29th) all finished in the top 30.
“We all came from the same school (École Okotoks Junior High) before so we we’re all pretty good friends,” Nathan said. “And I’m quite excited they were with us on the journey and that we could all do so well.”
The Comp had strong placements throughout the grades.
Katrina Michel had a ninth-place finish in senior girls along with Brynn Holditch, who finished 27th.
“My race went really well, I was really happy with it and was able to get my personal best,” said Holditch. “The girls I ran with were always super sweet and nice, even though we were all competing against each other, it’s always a good atmosphere especially through divisionals, zones and provincials.
“It was just such a great team atmosphere, we were all there cheering each other on all day and we were all so proud of how we all did.”
Elsewhere, Sydney Neukom was 27th, Adison Lybbert was 107th in intermediate girls. Cole Penner was 80th in senior boys while Dallin Leavitt and Blake Robinson were 58th and 75th, respectively, in intermediate boys.
Foothills finished fifth among 4A schools in the team standings at provincials.
Strilchuk said the Falcons were blessed to have a significant uptake in interest in the varsity team with the runners bringing diverse athletic backgrounds to the sport.
“We had a big group interested in cross-country from the outset,” Strilchuk said. “We’re noticing that actually in all of our sports, the number of students who come to try out and I think that will only grow over the course of the year.”
Knights make their mark
The Holy Trinity Academy Knights had seven athletes run at provincials.
“They all ran hard, they did their best and we just had a super experience at the event itself,” said Knights cross-country coach Bruce Dickie. “It was great to compete against other runners that are pretty high calibre.”
Dickie said the event on the Enoch Cree Nation also provided a terrific cultural component.
“They did it up really well, lots of cultural activities infused into the day and in a really meaningful way,” Dickie added. “It was a great experience for them and for the coaches too.”
Jeremy Cieplak, who crossed the finish line 15th among junior boys, said the runners took inspiration from their surroundings.
“It was a lot like the Olympics, from what I can imagine, the opening ceremony was really cool,” he said. “Every single race had the drumming and singing from the First Nations group.
“There’s all the chanting from your team, they’re all giving you advice and then there was also the big crowd, it was almost like a big soccer arena. It was really cool.”
On the course, Cieplak had a late kick to climb closer and closer to the top finishers on a track with less elevation than anticipated.
“I started in the middle of the (pack) in 40th or 50th place,” Cieplak said. “I passed a bunch of people in my first kilometre and the next two kilometres were pretty slow for me and that last 800 metres I went into full overdrive, I was sprinting and passed probably 20 people.”
HTA’s Xander Boyd was 66th in senior boys, Alyssa Sanden 87th in intermediate girls and Gracie MacIntyre was 62nd in junior girls.
In intermediate boys, Leon Spatz was 26th, Peter Wonderham 57th and Xavier Krueger 81st.
All told, HTA finished 16th among 4A schools at the championships.
The Strathcona-Tweedsmuir Spartans had another strong contingent at the championships.
The 2A-school finished third in the team standings.
The Spartans earned a quartet of top-25 results with Grade 12 Claire O’Leary and Grade 10 Abbey Meheriuk both finishing 22nd in senior and junior girls, respectively, with Grayden German and Avinash Murthy ending up in 25th spot in senior and intermediate boys.
Elsewhere, in senior boys Marco Reis was 78th and Owen Plumb 83rd, in intermediate girls Faith Jinjika was 69th and in junior girls Maia McGillivray was 66th and Abbey Meheriuk, 72nd.