Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – In a building year, MacEwan's cross-country teams will compete in individual competitions only this Saturday at the U SPORTS national championship in Kingston, Ont.
With only four female and two male student-athletes travelling east, MacEwan will lack the necessary numbers to compete in the five-member team competitions.
"You want to be part of the competition, rather than at the tail end," said head coach Drew Carver, who had enough athletes for a women's team but took only those who have a chance of competing with a tough national field. "We decided to take the athletes that fit that competitive mold."
The athletes going will compete individually and gain valuable nationals experience that will help in the future as MacEwan rebuilds its program.
"The idea is that the kids that are going, this is an experience for which they can build on and go from there for most of the first-year athletes," said Carver.
"Scott is really the only (veteran) athlete going to this event," said Carver. "He's looking to have an improved time over past years, which would put him closer to the front of the competition. But it's a race where you don't know exactly what's going to happen that day.
"As for Owen, Emma, Ashley, Sheh and Cassandra, this is definitely a building year. They're going to be part of the competition, but they're not going to be at the front of it."
Steele has the best chance of exceeding that prediction. Coming off top-10 results in two of three regional events against Canada West competition this fall, she will be in contention for the conference's top female rookie award.
"Emma's running really well right now and hopefully if everything goes well she could be the Canada West rookie of the year," said Carver.
MacEwan last won that award in 2015 when Hannah Leggatt was in her first season. Steele has been running similar times to Leggatt when she was a rookie, so it's definitely possible.
"There are three girls that she has to contend with," said Carver. "She's not far off those girls who have beaten her, so it's one of those things: if Emma has a good day …. things could work out for her."
Hosted by Queen's University, the national championship will feature a women's 8K race at 11 a.m. MT and a men's 10K race at 12 p.m. MT. Watch live here.
The course, says Carver, has been previously used for Canadian national championships, so it will be a test, particularly if there's some inclement weather.
"The hills aren't exactly as aggressive (as we've seen) in that you don't get any steep climbs," he said. "The tough part of the course is that they have a lot of sharp turns in it. If we have a rainy, muddy day, I've watched lots of athletes turning those corners go down. I've had two guys running up front and both were taken out by a guy who wiped out.
"It can be a challenge in that the hills they do have are long gradual (climbs) and when you're running 8K and 10K on that, you'll generally find the pace slows down in the second half of the race because of it."