Athletics High Schools

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Earl of March’s Amelia Van Brabant goes solo to NCSSAA girls’ senior cross-country running title

By Martin Cleary

Visit the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Facebook Page for a photo gallery of this race.

Amelia Van Brabant takes a serious approach to her role as a student-athlete at Earl of March Secondary School.

Not only does she attend scheduled practices, train hard and knows how to put a No. 1 beside her name on the cross-country running result sheets, but also she is keen to go beyond the normal athlete requirements.

In August, when returning to school was a far cry from the thoughts of other students, Van Brabant started her own recruiting process to build a girls’ senior team. She was hoping to sell a minimum of three students on the rewards of long-distance running in a variety of fall weather conditions, but her efforts were all for naught.

When the cross-country running season started in September for the Earl of March Lions, the Grade 11 student-athlete was the only senior girl on the team along with three junior and three novice girls and two senior and five novice boys.

But Van Brabant maintained her enthusiasm and energy for overland running and had a perfect season at the high school level – three competitions and three convincing victories in October.

Amelia Van Brabant won the NCSSAA senior girls’ race in 23:53.32. Photo: Dan Plouffe

On the heels of winning the Capital XC girls’ varsity 5,000 metres and the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association West Conference senior 6,000 metres, Van Brabant entered the city high school championships as the race favourite.

As the only Lions representative in the girls’ senior race, Van Brabant opened with a conservative pace for the six-kilometre race in the field of 109 runners. But it wasn’t long before she took the lead and held it until she crossed the finish line in 23 minutes, 53.32 seconds.

Elizabeth Vroom of Sir Wilfrid Laurier placed second in 24:32.42, while Olivia Baggley of Gloucester took third in 24:47.13.

In the finish area after the race, Van Brabant mingled with her racing peers, a gentle reminder that her placement wouldn’t be eligible for a result in the senior team competition, which was won by Glebe at 32 points and followed by Merivale at 82 and Franco-Cite at 125.

“It can be annoying,” Van Brabant said about not having teammates to form a senior team. “It would be nice to have teammates to train with. But I’m grateful for my Ottawa Lions (Track and Field Club) teammates (who were on other school teams).

“I did try to recruit some (Earl of March) runners. But no one wanted to run six kilometres. It’s too bad. Maybe next year the junior girls will come up. I started recruiting at the end of August. I texted my friends. They said maybe, but then, sorry, they were going to do tennis instead.

“I wasn’t going to force anyone, but it’s hard.”

Amelia Van Brabant and Hornets Nest mud. Photo: Dan Plouffe

In a normal year, an individual race victory at the NCSSAA championships, which were held last Thursday on the muddy and slippery courses at the Hornets Nest in Gloucester, would earn an invitation to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association’s championships. This year provincial finals are Nov. 6 at Lakefield College School.

Following the advice of Ottawa’s two English and two French school boards, the NCSSAA is not sending representatives to any OFSAA championships this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The school boards don’t want the students involved in activities with overnight stays.

The NCSSAA will wait before making a decision about sending athletes to the winter and spring OFSAA championships.

“I was disappointed in the people who made that decision,” said Van Brabant, who competed as a Grade 9 student-athlete at the snowy OFSAA cross-country running championships in Sudbury and placed 81st in the girls’ novice race.

“Other towns will be there. Ottawa usually does well. I’m disappointed, but excited for the prospect of having track (in May and June). I feel bad for the people (cross-country runners) in their last year.”

The pandemic also cancelled the entire NCSSAA cross-country running season and the OFSAA championships in 2020.

Van Brabant’s senior victory at the NCSSAA championships was her eighth first-place finish out of 12 cross-country and outdoor track races this season, including two Ontario age-group championships.

On the track, she won the women’s 3,000 metres in 9:57.73 at the Ontario U20 championships and was second over the same distance in 10:05.40 at the provincial U18 championships. During the Ottawa Lions’ Twilight summer meets, she had four wins over 1,500 and 3,000 metres and a second in a 1,000-metre race.

“I was very excited and it was nice to see my hard training paying off,” Van Brabant said about her NCSSAA senior triumph. “I’m excited to go to the (club) provincial and national races, especially since there will be no OFSAA happening this year.”

Being a race leader is something new for Van Brabant. She normally considers herself a chaser and feels she performs better pursuing other runners.

But there was a special reason why she did so well as a solo runner at the head of the pack.

“I was thinking about my turkey sandwich and when I finish, I can eat lunch,” she smiled.

The Glebe team of Cara MacDonald (fourth, 25:11.37), Caitlin Gormley (fifth, 26:18.16), Talia Bennett (seventh, 26:42.58) and Freya Hurst (16th, 28:59.81) won the girls’ senior team title.

Merivale placed second with the team of Esme Smolynec (13th, 28:37.36), Laura Cross (14th, 28:45.73), Charlotte Burgess (20th, 29:27.92), and Sarah Norman (36th, 31:11.77).

The Franco-Cité squad of Gillian Porter (sixth, 26:20.05), Chloe Roy (23rd, 29:39.59), Daria Vogt (46th, 32:36.17) and Lauren Harback (50th, 33:12.17 finished third.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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