Rookie Row leads way for Griffins cross country team at opening event

Kiana Row, right, led the MacEwan Griffins women's cross-country team on Saturday at the ACAC Grand Prix #1 at Edmonton's Gold Bar Park. (Samantha Mastel-Marr photo).
Kiana Row, right, led the MacEwan Griffins women's cross-country team on Saturday at the ACAC Grand Prix #1 at Edmonton's Gold Bar Park. (Samantha Mastel-Marr photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Just shy of 12 months after Emma Steele burst onto the scene with a spectacular performance in her first university race, the MacEwan Griffins experienced a case of déjà vu.

Rookie Kiana Row bested all other student-athletes – including reigning CCAA champion Sophia Nowicki of Lethbridge College – during Saturday's ACAC Running Room Grand Prix #1 at Edmonton's Gold Bar Park.

"It went unbelievably well for Kiana," said head coach Drew Carver of the Griffins rookie, who finished the women's 6K in 23:11. "She had a very good first kilometre where she was sitting back in about 10th place. She just settled down into a good running stride.

"Then in about the second half of the course, in the third kilometre, she was moving up nicely and getting into the top five. Just as she kept going and picking one or two off."

She then pursued a pair of open division runners who broke away from the pack and left all other student athletes in her dust, including Nowicki.

"It was quite something to see her cruise right past her," said Carver. "But it brings you back to how fast Emma ran. Emma ran that exact same pace, but she did that for 10 km at U SPORTS (nationals).

"Kiana did well, but now we have to make sure she maintains that and builds on it. That's the speed I expect her to run at nationals or Canada West."

Steele, who finished in the top 10 amongst a Canada West-laden field in her first race last season in Saskatchewan and then went to become a conference second team all-star, wasn't near Row on Saturday. But neither were teammates Ember Large and Ashley Tymkow, who all have the ability to be the top runner on the Griffins in any given race.

Carver noted it's early and times will improve.

"The only downside is that (Kiana's) running mates did not keep up with her," said Carver. "I talked to each one and there were various factors that led to them not having as strong a race as I expected. Kiana definitely showed that's where she is and hopefully the rest of the team can catch up to her."

Tymkow is working back from an off-season foot injury, so the fact she was still competitive on Saturday was positive.

"I was really surprised," said Carver. "I didn't expect her to be up there. That's just Ashley. She's a fighter. Ember Large, our indoor female athlete of the year, didn't have as strong a race and Emma Steele was behind her. Those four I would expect to be my team leaders. I think Ember and Emma will be a lot stronger on the next round."

Next up for the Griffins is a trip to Victoria for the Bear Creek Open on Sept. 28.

"That's kind of the Canada West tune-up for us because you're going to meet UVic, UBC, Trinity and Calgary," said Carver. "I said if we're going to go anywhere, let's go find out against the top schools how we're going to stack up."

The Canada West championship is set for Oct. 26 in Calgary.