Athletics High Schools

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa high school cross-country runners can experience OFSAA again

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Visit our 2022 NCSSAA XC Championships webpage for more coverage, including race-by-race recaps and photo galleries, in the lead-up to the OFSAA provincials on Nov. 5.

By Martin Cleary

For the first time in three years, Ottawa cross-country runners have the opportunity to chase their ultimate high school dream in that athletics discipline.

The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association’s cross-country running championships Thursday at Mooney’s Bay not only produced individual and team medal winners, but also qualified a squad of excited runners for the annual OFSAA championships Nov. 5 in Uxbridge.

The top two teams in each of the girls and boys’ novice, junior and senior classes will represent NCSSAA at the provincial high school championships as well as the top five individual runners in each of the six races, unless they qualified on one of the two teams.

The 2020 NCSSAA championships were postponed because of the health and safety risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Ottawa high school championships played out in 2021, the NCSSAA didn’t send a team to OFSAA because the city’s four school boards didn’t want student/athletes and teacher/coaches travelling to OFSAA championships that involved overnight stays for health and safety reasons.

Derek Strachan, a Grade 11 student/athlete at Glebe Collegiate Institute, is looking forward to his first taste of the OFSAA cross-country running championships, which usually attracts more than 250 runners for each race.

When he was in Grade 9, the NCSSAA cancelled its fall cross-country season along with all other varsity sport programs. Last year, he won the city boys’ junior race, received his medal and multiple congratulations. But there was no OFSAA.

This year, Strachan will add the OFSAA race to his calendar, after he qualified by winning the NCSSAA boys’ senior race in his inaugural year in the age category.

“I’m super excited. There will be so many fast people there and you can run faster,” said Strachan, who posted a winning time of 20 minutes, 51.54 seconds over the hilly 6,000-metre course, which also featured a sandy beach and forest trails.

“At the same time, there are so many fast runners that I’ll be nervous. I hope to race my best and make the most of it.”

Bell’s Zachary Kushner accelerated down the finishing chute like an Olympic sprinter for second place in 21:02.78, while Glebe’s Kiefer Melinz Dupuis, who was second to Strachan in last year’s junior race, claimed third in 21:05.96.

Strachan and Melinz Dupuis played a key role in Glebe winning the boys’ senior team title with 43 placement points, while Bell was second at 68. St. Mother Teresa took third at 99.

Amelia Van Brabant of Earl of March remembers her first and only OFSAA cross-country championship, an 81st-place result in girls’ novice class in 2019. After no OFSAA opportunities the last two years, she is ready to challenge the best in the province in her final year of high school.

Van Brabant defended her girls’ senior title over 6,000 metres by putting in a hard day’s work for a winning time of 22:17.33.

Gloucester’s Olivia Baggley pushed Van Brabant throughout the race, but couldn’t find the next level to go shoulder-to-shoulder with her Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club teammate. Baggley stopped in 22:22.26. Third place went to Lauren Alexander of Glebe at 22:32.10.

“This will be my second cross-country OFSAA and I don’t know what to think,” Van Brabant offered, after her victory. “I’d love to be in the top 10, but the opposition will be hard. I’ll put in a good effort and see what happens.”

Despite no OFSAA in 2021, Van Brabant ran against most of the same girls last year at the Athletics Ontario U18 championships and won the race. She also teamed with Baggley, Alexander and Cara MacDonald to win the girls’ U18 team gold medal for the Ottawa Lions at the Canadian championships.

National capital girls’ senior champion Amelia Van Brabant from Earl of March Secondary School placed 81st in her first and only OFSAA XC appearance back in 2019. The reigning Ontario U18 club champ is poised to land much higher when she returns to the high school provincials on Nov. 5. Photo: Dan Plouffe

By placing its four counting runners in the top 10 (third, sixth, ninth and 10th), Glebe won the girls’ senior team trophy with 28 points at the NCSSAA championship. Merivale was second at 68 and Longfields-Davidson Heights placed third at 115.

Glebe also celebrated another one-three podium finish, after the boys’ junior 5,000-metre challenge.

Saul Taler enjoyed an animated run to the finish line with his sideline supporters over the final 100 metres and posted an unmatched time of 15:52.99. East Conference champion Daniel Cova of Louis-Riel was second at 15:57.20 and Glebe’s Russell Heins took third in 16:18.21.

“I’m really glad I got the win … but also for Russ Heins,” Taler said. “I saw he was third and I was more happy for him being third than for me winning.”

Immaculata and Louis-Riel had a tight finish in the boys’ junior team race with 31 and 34 points respectively. By having runners place fourth, fifth, seventh and 15th, Immaculata edged the best from Louis-Riel, who were second, ninth, 11th and 12th. Despite a double podium, Glebe was third at 57.

Isabella Chiumera of St. Pius X is a city champion for the second consecutive year, but in a new category, After capturing the girls’ novice title in 2021, Chiumera was the class of the girls’ junior field over 5,000 metres.

Chiumera was first in 17:53.19, while Ciara Villeneuve of Paul-Desmarais was second in 17:56.19 and Grace Streek of Peak Centre Academy earned third in 18:10.23.

“Isabella has so much determination. I see her training all the time. She’s awesome,” said Streek, who overcame a school transfer issue earlier this fall to compete in the NCSSAA West Conference and city championships.

When Chiumera isn’t training three times a week with her St. Pius X teammates, she is in the pool with Swim Ottawa for practice sessions nine times a week.

The top three girls’ junior teams were Nepean at 89, John McCrae with 120 and Paul-Desmarais at 122.

Immaculata’s Evelyn Davies and Colonel By’s Owen Siderus credited their endurance ski training with Nakkertok Nordic Ski Club for helping them be the best in the respective girls’ and boys’ novice divisions.

The largest margins of victory came in the two novice races. Davies finished in 16:15.68 for a comfortable win over Franco-Cité’s Nadine Buchanan, 16:29.80, and Nepean’s Tillie Pender, 16:30.95.

Pender’s effort was a highlight for the Knights, who captured the girls’ novice team title at 45 points as Glebe was second with 91 and South Carleton took third at 106.

Colonel By runners posted a one-three boys’ novice result as Owen Siderus led the parade in 13:55.26 and Cougars teammate Austin Walker was third in 14:20.27. Hillcrest’s Charlie Mortimer was the man in the middle in second place at 14:15.66.

Siderus and Walker sparked the Cougars to the boys’ novice team championship with 29 points, while Glebe was second at 63 and Nepean finished third at 116.

The aggregate team trophies were earned by Nepean for the girls and Glebe for the boys as well as the overall.

Visit our 2022 NCSSAA XC Championships webpage for more coverage, including race-by-race recaps and photo galleries, in the lead-up to the OFSAA provincials on Nov. 5.

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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