As Crossroads cross-country coach Paul Murray prepared to take his group of runners to a meet in Thunder Bay last weekend for the first time, he admitted he wasn’t quite sure how they would stack up.
Murray knew he was taking a strong contingent of 20 runners (10 boys and 10 girls in grades seven and eight) to the 27th-annual Royal Canadian Legion Mid-Canada Cross-country Championships at Lakehead University on Saturday.
What he didn’t know was how they would compare against the top elementary-school runners in Northwestern Ontario.
But after several stellar performances in both divisions, Murray now knows exactly how good his runners are. In fact, he knows they are outstanding.
“It was just totally awesome,” enthused Murray, who has been coaching cross-country in the district for the past 15 years, about his team’s finish. “We went wondering, essentially, how we would do against the other schools because it was our first time going and I knew we had a good team.
“[But] we just never acted on it to see how good we were,” he added.
Some 27 schools from across Northwestern Ontario took part in the one-day event, which featured a two-mile race, but it was the Crossroads School in Devlin that stole the show.
Crossroads ran their way to a first-place finish in the girls’ division, finishing with a low score of 83 points, well ahead of runner-up Barclay (Dryden) with 131. The team was led by Natasha Brant, who placed second, Brandy Hyatt (third), Kim Councillor (eighth), and Darcy Smith (10th).
Other Crossroads runners on the girls’ included Kati McTavish, Rebecca Cornell, Denise Kaemingh, Theresa Smith, Kari Hyatt, and Carley McCormick.
Rylee Broman of Robert Moore School was the top female runner from Fort Frances, finishing ninth in the two-mile race.
Meanwhile, the Crossroads boys’ team also was impressive Saturday, finishing second in their division with 91 points, just five behind Barclay.
Leading the pack for Devlin was Tyler Barker, who ran the race in an unbelievable time of 12:53, about 30 seconds ahead of the next fastest runner.
Ryan Smith finished fourth, with Jeff Hyatt in fifth, Mathew Smith eighth, and Kyle McTavish 11th. Other boys who competed from Crossroads were Mitchell Bryant, Elijah Smith, Kyle McTavish, Craig McTavish, Trevor Barker, and Lucas Arden.
Barker, a perennial gold-medal winner at district races, including a first-place finish at this year’s race earlier this month at Crossroads, stole the show with his easy victory.
“He has always been a gifted runner with a natural pace,” said Murray. “He always wants to go and he’s always in fantastic shape in that he sprints up the last 100 metres.”
Murray said Barker—and the rest of the school—has benefited from running on a steady basis to prepare for such meets. He also praised the fact they had just put in a cross-country course to help to motivate the kids.
“There’s more motivation for the kids now because they don’t just have to run around the school,” said Murray, who also has run cross-country clubs at J.W. Walker and Alberton Central schools. “That’s given the kids a real advantage because we have a large group of kids who are very eager and really keen to run.
“We have kids from various grades running, even the little ones,” he added.
Robert Moore, which placed fifth in the boys’ division with 306 points, was led by David Fagerdahl, who finished 14th overall. St. Francis School was 14th.