There was a lot of pride floating around amongst the host team at the Running Room Grand Prix 2.
Firstly, a huge turnout for the race that not only featured some of the top Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference runners but also had junior and senior high schools in the mix along with a strong contingent in the open category.
The cherry on top was a pair of victories for the Kings and Queens cross country groups in the ACAC team category.
That had head coach Kari Elliot beaming with pride at the end of the race day, especially considering it was the first race of the season for her team.
“My initial thought was pride. There were some expected performances then there’s always those that that over-perform, too,” she said.
“I saw in our athletes a lot of grit and determination. A few of them looked like they wanted to call it a day about halfway through, they rallied and came back and fought hard to the finish… I think that’s what makes me the most proud, seeing that determination to hold on when you’re hurting.”
The Queens were led by second-year standout Shayla Sklaruk. She was the top ACAC runner on the day, finishing the six-kilometre race in a time of 25 minutes, 52.98 seconds.
“I was coming in with a bit of a blank slate. I was setting standards for myself and I’m super happy with how it went,” she said.
“It was difficult, super hard course, there were a lot of technical areas and a lot of hills. Just not overthinking it and going with the flow. Remembering that we’ve trained hard leading up to this and stick with what I know and give’er.”
Sklaruk, from Stony Plain is coming off a big rookie season, where she was named an ACAC cross country all-conference runner, as well as the rookie of the year. She hopes to carry that momentum into this season and help push the team forward.
“Continuously pushing myself,” said the Bachelor of Education student.
“I know I’m strong and I know I can give it my all, that’s just the goal for the year, keep myself healthy and accountable to the training plan, as well as accountable to the team. I’m going to work and push myself towards that.”
She finished just ahead of Queens veteran Jill Stewart, who ended up third in 26:25.55. Caitlin Debree was fourth (26:54.11), Teagan Shapka was sixth (27:42.64), Shayna Brower was seventh (27:44.33) and MacKenzie Spinks was eighth (28:06.06). Concordia University of Edmonton finished second and the University of Alberta- Augustana was third.
Not to be outdone, the Kings also had a stellar finish in the eight-kilometre race.
Second-year, Red Deer native Devin Saunders led the way for the Kings in second with a time of 28:24.98. Will Cebuliak (28:44.92), Daniel Szucs (29:14.02) and Stephen Rowley (30:55.34) all finished in the top 10 to help the home team clinch the ACAC top spot. SAIT finished in second and UAA ended up third on the men’s side.
Elliot added that a few of the top schools were missing from the race so she made sure to caution her group to not get too high after the victory.
“I’ve learned that a lot of things can change from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. For me, it’s a cautious, way to go but if there were a few different places, it could have been a different result,” she said.
“We have to work hard, we have to get more fit. The ambitious way our men finished the first couple of laps, that’s what we need them to do the whole way through.”
Next weekend is Grand Prix 3 in Grande Prairie, which is also the site for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association National Championships. Elliot and the team have decided not to attend that race, instead electing to take a week off and race the provincial course in Calgary the following weekend.
Jared Howse (St. Joseph) won the grade 11/12 boys race in 20:36, Mika Eggink (Notre Dame) was second in 22:14 and Lindsay Thurber’s Owen Pimm was third in 23:00. On the girls’ side for grade 11/12 runners, Lacombe’s Jenica Swartz finished in in top spot with 17:07, Hannah Wirtanen (Lindsay Thurber) was second and Notre Dame’s Stephanie Blokland was third (19:04).