Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – While the Griffins didn't qualify a team for the U SPORTS national cross-country championship, two student-athletes will compete in the individual competition on Saturday in Kingston, Ont.
Rookie Kiana Row, who recently won a Canada West second all-star team spot, and second-year Emma Steele, who was a 2018 conference second team all-star, will race the women's 8K alongside the best university runners in the country.
"Our number one goal is just to run faster and stronger," said head coach Drew Carver, referring to the slower times running a snowstorm at the Canada West championship in Calgary last month. "The next thing is we've looked at the athletes who've finished ahead of us in CanWest and we want to make sure we try and beat those athletes, too."
If that puts either athlete on a U SPORTS all-star team, all the better, but that's a tough feat only accomplished one time before in MacEwan history when Vanessa Trofimenkoff made the then-CIS second all-star team in 2014.
"I figure they actually will run faster at nationals," said Carver. "The course they ran on for Canada West, with the conditions were pretty tough, so if we just get better weather … and the hills are not as aggressive, so I'm expecting faster times.
"We do have a goal for Kiana to try and break that 30-minute mark for 8K, which I think is very doable for her. Emma, if everything keeps progressing the way she's been going, she'll be right with her."
Steele brings experience from last year at the same course as the nationals are again hosted by Queen's University.
"That's one of the key things," said Carver. "I'm counting on Emma being a veteran to the area. She's run this distance and the event, so she should have some insight for Kiana and help guide her through it.
"The race course has been pretty much set up the same the last couple of years there," he added. "So, they know pretty much every turn and corner that's coming, even down to which side of the trail to run on because as you go into some corners if you're on the inside when you approach somebody, you often end up trapped behind them. You need to know which side to be on."
Emma Steele, left, seen racing during the Canada West championship in Calgary last month, can lean on valuable experience from the U SPORTS national championship a year ago (Linda Miller photo).
Accustomed to travelling and racing with a team, the duo will need to get used to leaning on just each other this weekend after MacEwan fell short of the top-three teams qualifying for nationals.
"It's kind of a good and bad situation," said Carver. "The best part about it is I can focus on two athletes. Training is leading up to it. That's where my concern is, making sure they're ready to go.
"The downside is I do see the athletes functioning better as a group and a team. They do lend support to each other and approach racing as a group. They make sure each other is ready to go. That's one of the strange things about a sport like this where you have a team event, but individual (competition). If we do have a team behind us, we tend to perform a little better.
"There's going to be a little bit of pressure on Emma and Kiana without having their teammates, but I think they're strong athletes and hopefully it will all pan out in the end with positive results."