HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Mention the Hornets Nest to Jocelyn Giannotti and the Holy Trinity Catholic High School student-athlete immediately associates it with soccer.
She has played a number of games and tournaments at the multi-field venue in Gloucester during her career with the West Ottawa Soccer Club. But when the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association cross-country running championships were scheduled to be staged there last week, she was slightly puzzled.
“When I heard the (NCSSAA) running finals were at the Hornets Nest, I said to myself ‘I’ve played soccer here.’ I had no idea they had cross-country courses here,” the Grade 10 student said in an interview. “I thought we’d be running around the soccer fields.”
Giannotti was partially correct as her girls’ junior 5,000-metre race in the NCSSAA city cross-country running championships took her around some of the familiar soccer fields. But the course also led her and 88 other runners through woods, treacherous muddy conditions and a challenging toboggan hill.
After doing a quick pre-race inspection of her course before last Thursday’s endurance test, Giannotti charged into her first NCSSAA championship and battled hard with the strong contingent from Glebe Collegiate Institute.
By the time she rounded the venue’s multi-sport dome, the Tornadoes’ runner was in command, heading into the final kilometre. Giannotti, who placed eighth in the West Conference championships two weeks earlier, posted the winning time of 21 minutes, 46.14 seconds.
East Conference champion Laurin Alexander led the pursuit from three Glebe Gryphons, finishing second in 22:09.97. Teammates Claire Allan and Claire Waddington were third and fourth respectively in 22:29.39 and 23:03.70.
The impressive showing by Glebe’s top three plus the ninth-place result from Sarah Flynn in 23:50.93 gave the Gryphons the girls’ junior team title with 18 placement points. Nepean took second at 78 points and Ashbury was third with 168 points.
“I was definitely nervous at the start and I had heard about the Glebe runners,” Giannotti said. “But once I started running, I just thought about putting one foot in front of the other. It was my first time on the course.
“I was happy how my race went… and at the end my legs were tired. I had hoped to do this well. My goal was the top five.”
Regular practice sessions with the Tornadoes and the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club allowed Giannotti to confront the hills and muddy conditions during the long-distance race. But it was the runners around her who sparked her the most.
“I like to run with great runners. They pushed me to go faster. I felt comfortable and it was nice to run with other runners,” Giannotti said.
“I think I had it in me. In the West Conference race at Walter Baker Park, there were not a lot of runners around me. At these championships, I was with other runners and it was a lot easier to push the pace.”
In the summer, Giannotti had some concerns about whether she would be able to run cross-country as she sustained injuries involving her lower back and right foot. But using a series of exercises and stretching plus rest, she was able to recover for the short overland running season.
“I was concerned. I really like track, but I also enjoy cross-country running. I worried, but I took it easy, rested and recovered,” she explained.
As happy as she was for winning on race day, there also was a moment of disappointment that she wouldn’t be able to attend her first Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ cross-country running championships Saturday at Lakefield, ON.
Ottawa’s two English and two French school boards decided not to have students attend events that require an overnight stay because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCSSAA is following that ruling for its athletic champions in the fall, but hasn’t made a decision about the winter and spring OFSAA championships.
“I’m really disappointed,” Giannotti expressed. “I totally understand because of the pandemic. I’ve never been to OFSAA before… but this will give me more time to train and prepare for OFSAA 2022.”
Nepean, which had its school canopy situated right beside Glebe, placed second in the team standings. Ali Pascali was the Knights’ top runner in seventh at 23:21.59 and she was followed by Elsie Hawkes (12th in 24:30.57), Anna Whittaker (21st in 25:24.24) and Sarah Downes (38th in 27:15.72).
The third-place Ashbury Colts were led by Anna Top Christensen (17th in 24:59.54), Sofia Mrak (45th in 28:26.67), Sarah Bruce (49th in 29:06.54) and Nadia Atkins (57th in 30:34.25).
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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