Athletics High Schools

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Daniel Cova’s love of running shows in NCSSAA boys’ novice XC running win

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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

There was a time when Daniel Cova considered basketball his primary sport.

And that made sense for the then elementary school student. Basketball was sweeping the nation and its full-court press was bringing many young athletes into the sport invented almost 130 years ago by James Naismith of Almonte, ON.

But after a while, the Grade 9 student at École secondaire publique Louis-Riel realized basketball might not be the best fit for someone five feet, four inches tall and weighing 100 pounds.

But Cova did have a backup athletic plan – running. And at this time of the year, that would be cross-country running.

Cova learned a lot about himself as a runner in October, posting two wins on the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association circuit and recording a top-10 finish racing against older athletes in a community race.

After placing eighth in the boys’ junior varsity 4,000 metres (second among novice runners born in 2007) during the Capital XC meet, Cova entered the short high school season and became the leader of the pack.

In his high school debut, Cova won the East Conference race on a dry Hornets Nest course in 15 minutes, 37.67 seconds. Despite two days of rain heading into the NCSSAA city championships last week, he moved impressively over the slippery and muddy layout and was less than two seconds off his conference time in 15:39.59.

The Hornets Nest also is the home course for the neighbouring Louis-Riel team.

West Conference champion Levi Sankey of Merivale was second in 15:52.91 at the city finals, while Immaculata’s Will McGregor placed third in 16:09.45.

Early in the race, Cova felt tired because “I started too quick.” But after a while, he returned to form and was at the front of the pack with Sankey. Once he got into that position, he made a critical decision.

“I have to win. That’s what drove me from that point on,” Cova said after the race. “I’m here now, I can win it.

“I’m really happy. A few friends said to me you’ve got to win the race. I said I’ll try.”

He also admitted he felt lucky to emerge as the boys’ novice champion.

“I felt that Levi was way better trained,” he added. “I only started training two months ago.

“I love running. I used to play basketball, but I’m trying to focus more time on running. It’s best for my build. I’m faster. I’ve run my whole life and I’ve had a few races with my dad.”

Cova’s cross-country season will continue with the Athletics Ontario championships later this month, but he’ll have to wait until 2022 to experience his first Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations high school championship.

The two English and two French school boards decided Ottawa students shouldn’t travel to school events that involve an overnight stay. The NCSSAA is following that ruling and not sending any athletes to the fall OFSAA championships. A decision on the OFSAA championships in the winter and spring will be made later by the NCSSAA.

“I was hoping I could go to OFSAA to see how good I was developing against other cities. But it’s a bit disappointing,” he said.

Immaculata placed its four counting runners in the top nine to win the boys’ novice team title with 23 placement points – McGregor, Noah Smith (fifth in 16:24.50), Aleksander Meehan (sixth in 16:33.35) and Matteo Padoin-Castillo (ninth in 17:05.86).

Immaculata placed all four of its scoring runners inside the top-9 to claim the boys’ novice team title. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Merivale placed second with 109 points and was led by Sankey, Blue Thompson (10th in 17:07.19), Duncan Tong (48th in 19:37.05) and Mesbahullah Niazi (49th in 19:37.26).

John McCrae scored 121 points and earned third place from runners Samuel Gomez (12th in 17:18.51), Harrison Tesselaar (26th in 18:40.81), Ian Milne (32nd in 18:58.00) and Mohammed Abouzied (51st in 20:07.55).

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

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

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