That rumbling you feel is from the collective footsteps of the Muskie cross-country team.
The 26-member contingent that Fort High sent to the NWOSSAA championships last Wednesday at the Kamview Ski Trails in Thunder Bay served notice to all of Ontario that they are a force to be reckoned with as a record 19 runners qualified for OFSAA, which is slated for this Saturday in Sudbury.
Fort High also claimed the NWOSSAA team trophy for the first time in school history, nabbing 206 points to finish ahead of both the Hammarskjold Vikings (178) and Superior Gryphons (139).
“A number of factors have contributed to our 19 athletes qualifying for OFSAA,” said Muskie coach John Dutton, who couldn't be more proud of his team's efforts this year.
"For the past five or six years, we have welcomed Grade 7/8 runners out to train, travel and compete with the Muskies. As a result, we have more athletes with more training and competitive experience than in the past and our success helps to draw in new athletes each season.
“We had 26 athletes at NWOSSAA this week, compared to 13 last year,” he noted.
“And for the first time in my coaching tenure, we had athletes in all six races, and better yet, OFSAA qualifiers in all six races.”
Each of the Novice boys' and girls' and senior girls' teams qualified for OFSAA this weekend for the Muskies, along with five other individuals.
How qualifying for the all-Ontarios works is the top five runners plus the top two teams in each race advance. If the team qualifiers are in the top five, then they move down the list.
For example: if a winning team has two runners in the top five, then those two runners would be team qualifiers, thus opening individual spots for places six and seven.
Alexia Gate and Leah Seguin finished 1-2 in the Novice girls' 4K race at NWOSSAA last week to earn their OFSAA berths.
Gate snared NWOSSAA gold by topping the 31-runner field with a time of 16:57 while Seguin was just behind to take silver (17:12).
Chloe Dolyny wound up sixth (18:16) while Arianna Hyatt wound up 17th (21:46) to both also qualify.
Trent Wilson, who finished first in every race this NorWOSSA season, continued that trend as he snared gold in the Novice boys' 4K race by topping the 35-runner field with a time of 14:06 to qualify for OFSAA.
Caden McGinnis was fourth (15:32) followed by Maverick Morrisseau in eighth (16:15), Jackson Marchant in 18th (17:24), while Lucious Medicine was 29th (21:38) to all also move on.
“Trent Wilson has had a great season and he has been a great addition to the team,” Dutton lauded.
"He posted a PR in Emo [at the annual 'Donut Run'] and has broken that record in each race as the season progressed. I know he has been happy with his results this season.
“But being a pretty modest guy, he hasn't really said much about OFSAA,” Dutton noted.
“But I have no doubt that he welcomes the opportunity to see how he performs against the best in Ontario.”
In the senior girls' 6K race, meanwhile, Greta Fedoruk and Ashlyn Beck finished 1-2 to both qualify for OFSAA.
Fedoruk topped the 27-runner field with a time of 28:23 while Beck snared silver in clocking in with a time of 29:24.
Tori Toriseva wound up fourth (30:07) while Jaida Norris was ninth (32:12) to both also nab berths.
Alacea Yerxa finished in 14th spot (34:06) to also advance while Taylor Meekis was 17th (36:00) to fall just short.
Montana Plasky nabbed bronze in the junior girls' 5K race with a time of 24:24 in the 31-runner field to earn her berth at the all-Ontarios.
Emma Toriseva was fourth (24:39) to also qualify while Lillie McKenzie fell short in winding up 24th (31:35).
Corbin Riches had the top Muskie showing in the junior boys' 5K race, finishing sixth with a time of 21:48 in the 27-runner field to advance to OFSAA.
He was followed by Matthew Watts in 10th (22:07), who also moved on.
And in the senior boys' 6k race, Owen Riches ran to a seventh-place finish in the 61-runner field with a time of 25:28 to be the lone Muskie athlete to qualify for OFSAA in that division.
James Furlong wound up 20th (27:04), Ben Olson was 41st (30:20), Braydon Christiansen was 53rd (33:03), Nick Larson was 59th (37:38), while Ryley Booth placed 61st (39:56).
“NWOSSAA was a great day for Fort High runners. We found out at 7:30 on the morning of the races that the trail we had been expecting to run had been closed because of fallen trees, and the 'new' trail was much more challenging—lots of hills and lots of water,” Dutton noted.
"And yet every team member posted a PR, and when they weren't racing, they were scattered along the trail cheering and encouraging their teammates.
“Results aside, it was rewarding as coach to see them come together as a team and I couldn't be more proud,” he enthused.
Looking ahead to OFSAA this weekend, Dutton said competing at the all-Ontarios should be an extremely rewarding experience for all 19 Muskie athletes that qualified.
“Of the 19 qualifiers seven have OFSAA experience, while the remainder are first-timers,” he remarked.
"I think most are aware of the level of competition they will face, some looking to improve on last year's position, others hoping to post a best time as they have continued to do all season.
“But whatever the final result, I have tried to emphasize the importance of making the most of the opportunity that they have created for themselves,” he urged.
“Competing at the provincial level against tougher competition is an important step for these runners in terms of athletic development and self-confidence,” he reasoned.