“A great day for the Fort High running program.”
That's how Muskie cross-country head coach John Dutton put it after his eight-runner contingent competed at the OFSAA championships on Saturday in Petawawa.
The Midget women's squad—comprised of Greta Fedoruk, Ashlyn Beck, Grace Kowal, and Jaida Norris—had a particularly exceptional day, finishing in ninth place overall out of 34 in the team standings.
Fedoruk led the way by taking 73rd-place overall individually out of 257 entrants—completing the four-km course in a time of 16:39.1.
Beck wound up in 101st place (16:59.6), followed by Kowal (17:03.0) and Norris (17:03.7) in 107th and 108th, respectively.
Their combined finishes gave the team a total score of 389.
“I knew that the girls had the potential to make a good showing,” Dutton noted in an e-mailed response to the Times late Monday night.
“[But] this was more than we could have ever imagined,” he enthused.
Glebe (NC) captured first place in the division with a combined score of 168, followed by Leaside (TS) in second at 232 and Winston Churchill (SO) in third at 297.
Dutton said the Muskie Junior girls' quarter also had a great day as Tori Toriseva, Kamryn Sandelovich, Alacea Yerxa, and Star Martin woulnd up in 33rd place out of 36 in the team standings.
Toriseva was 168th overall out of 257 entrants with a time of 26:46.3 over the 5.35-km distance.
Sandelovich wound up 177th (27:00.0), with Yerxa in 241st (30:56.2) and Martin in 243rd (31:10.4).
Their combined finishes gave the team a total score of 829.
Dutton noted Toriseva, who competed at OFSAA in Port Hope last year, improved her result by 50 spots.
“The other three team members were new to the team this year but all ran strong races on a very challenging . . . course, and I couldn't be more pleased with their results,” he said.
Kingston CVI (EO) took top spot in the division with a combined score of 97, with Waterloo (CW) in second at 234 and Brooklin (LO) in third at 242.
Dutton said racing at an OFSAA championship can be a very humbling experience.
“There are so many amazing runners from all over the province, and the course is always very hilly and extremely challenging,” he noted.
“Several of the girls commented after the race that we need to do more hill training, and wished that they could runner bigger races, with more competitors, during our season,” Dutton added.
"It is just so different from the kind of competition that is available to us in the northwest.
“But with our strong showing, it is my hope that we may attract more runners to the Muskie program next year,” he added.
The Muskie runners also travelled further than any other competitors to compete at OFSAA—and had to endure brutal weather conditions along the way.
The group left here at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday and travelled by van through some brutal winter conditions, narrowly beating the heavy snow that all but closed the highway later that day.
Dutton said their flights from Thunder Bay to Toronto and Toronto to Ottawa went without a hitch, except for the luggage that didn't show up in Ottawa for four of the girls.
From Ottawa, the team rented vans and drove two hours west, through a blinding rainstorm, to their hotel in Pembroke (the nearest city to Petawawa).
“I know that leading up to OFSAA, and especially on race day, all of the girls were very nervous,” Dutton recalled.
“As a team, we had walked the course the previous day so we knew that the hills were very steep, and there were lots of them.”
Nearly 2,000 runners, representing athletes from 'A,' 'AA,' and 'AAA' schools from all 19 associations across the province, and easily as many spectators, showed up on race day.
Dutton said eight TV cameras were scattered throughout the course as the event was live-streamed.
As well, soldiers from CFB Petawawa were there in large numbers, with armoured vehicles and huge artillery guns.
Then as the races were about to start, a military helicopter did several fly-bys before hovering at the start line as the soloist sang “O Canada.”
“It was definitely intimidating, but our girls stayed focused and held their own among Ontario's best,” Dutton lauded.
“As I have said, I am very proud of all the girls,” he added.
“They not only competed well, but they also represented Fort Frances High School and NWOSSAA with the class and sportsmanship that we have come to expect in our Muskie athletes.”
“It was really intimidating seeing 300 girls who already knew what those races were like,” admitted Norris.
“It was really a great experience to be able to run with 300 girls that will push you to your limit,” echoed Kowal.
“Always having someone behind you and in front of you makes you run faster than ever before.”
Beck agreed going to OFSAA definitely was one of the most nerve-racking things she has ever done, especially competing against 300 runners.
“But as soon as the gun went off for the run, all the training and hard work we had put in over the months had really paid off,” she said.
“It was a great experience for all of us and hopefully we can make it next year, as well.”
Fedoruk said when they went to preview the course, it was so beautiful all along the [Ottawa] river and absolutely no snow.
“On the day of the race, it was really exciting to see so many athletes, and it was an experience I will never forget,” she enthused.
“I came away from it thinking that if we qualify again next year, I know exactly what to do to improve my result,” Fedoruk added.
"Sprint harder at the beginning to get ahead of the pack.
“I want to thank my coach, John Dutton, for all that he's done for us,” she concluded.
The four members of the Junior team also enjoyed the experience.
“I am thankful I had the opportunity to go to OFSAA with an amazing team and coach, and that I was able to use the gifts that God gave me,” said Toriseva.
“OFSAA was a great experience [but] it was really nerve-racking to see so many girls in just one race, and to see all the hills we had to run,” Sandelovich admitted.
“Running against the 300 best runners in Ontario was never something that I thought I would do," echoed Yerxa. ”Let alone running in general.
"But it was a fun experience for me.
“Thanks to everyone that made it happen, and for bringing me in last minute to be a part of our running family,” she added.
“I didn't plan on joining cross-country, and couldn't imagine myself making OFSAA,” Martin noted.
“Between finding my new passion, getting chased by strangers in the mall, and making new friends, overall this has been a spectacular experience,” she remarked.
“P.S.-always use the bathroom before you run a race.”
Dutton, meanwhile, reiterated this was a great year for the Muskie cross-country program.
“For the first time ever, we were able to send two teams [Midget and Junior women] to the provincial championships, and it is my hope that this kind of success will continue,” he said.
"I hope to attract more runners for next season, especially more boys, and I am also hopeful that we can have enough runners in the different age categories to be able to compete not only as individuals but also as teams [minimum of four per team].
“I encourage current team members to continue to run in the off-season, and I will continue to fine-tune our training plan in order to give our athletes their best chance at future success,” Dutton added.