By Martin Cleary
The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association experienced one of its finest OFSAA cross-country running championships on Saturday, but it was tempered with heartbreaking disappointments.
Competing on one of the most challenging courses in years at the Dagmar Ski Resort in Uxbridge, the Ottawa runners amassed an unprecedented eight medals – four in the boys’ and girls’ novice, junior and senior individual races and four in the team competition.
The NCSSAA has been a true force at the OFSAA championships for the past decade. This year, Ottawa runners placed third overall among all the Ontario associations, including second in the girls’ division. The NCSSAA was fifth overall in the three boys’ classes.
A four-medal performance in the six individual races – one gold, one silver and two bronze – is probably a first for the NCSSAA, while the four team medals fell one short of matching the best-ever result of five in 2014, when Glebe Collegiate Institute earned one gold, two silver and two bronze.
Glebe led the pack for the NCSSAA at the 2022 OFSAA championships with a boys’ junior gold and bronze performance by Saul Taler and Russell Heins respectively as well as a silver medal in the girls’ senior team class.
Colonel By made its mark in the boys’ novice division, when Owen Siderus was the individual silver medallist and was part of the Cougars’ silver-medal winning effort in the team category.
Highly motivated Immaculata pulled together to earn the boys’ junior team gold medal, while Nepean was the girls’ novice team silver medallist and Grace Streek of Peak Centre Academy captured the girls’ junior bronze medal.
While there was much celebration among the NCSSAA contingent, there also was heartbreak and disappointment as four key runners didn’t reach the finish line.
Earl of March’s Amelia Van Brabant, the two-time NCSSAA girls’ senior champion, collapsed with 300 metres remaining in her race. It was the final OFSAA cross-country running championship of her high school career.
In the same girls’ senior 6,000-metre race, NCSSAA silver-medallist Olivia Baggley of Gloucester was bumped during the race, badly sprained her ankle and withdrew from the competition.
NCSSAA girls’ junior champion Isabella Chiumera of St. Pius X was pulled off the course by her coach with 300 metres remaining. The unexpected warm weather and difficult courses played havoc with many runners, who may have suffered from dehydration.
Glebe’s Derek Strachan, the NCSSAA boys’ senior champion, didn’t complete the course because of illness and nausea.
“This was one of the toughest courses, certainly since Duntroon (2014), I have ever seen,” NCSSAA cross-country running convenor Kirk Dillabaugh of Glebe wrote in an email.
“But what made it worse was the unseasonably warm weather. It was a great course, but certainly not ideal conditions for the runners.”
“Three of our National Capital champions were unable to finish their races, with two needing medical attention. Given that half of our champions did not finish, our results truly are outstanding.”
Dillabaugh was impressed by the gold-medal run of Taler, a Grade 10 student-athlete who switched to cross-country running this fall, after playing for the Glebe boys’ senior soccer team in Grade 9. Taler covered the 5,000-metre course in 16 minutes, three seconds.
“Saul ran a great race. He was patient on a very tough course. I knew going in he was able to run with anyone in the province, but he had been outkicked in a couple races this year, once by Louis-Riel’s Daniel Cova, so Saul knew to make the most of things. He didn’t want to leave it too late,” Dillabaugh explained.
“He made a really strong move down one of the hills with just over one-kilometre to go that broke up the lead pack that had been whittled down to just five runners and after that extended his lead until the final stretch.”
Dillabaugh was doubly excited in the boys’ junior race by the effort of Heins, who “managed to stay so close and was able to move into the bronze-medal position in the final stretch.”
Heins sprinted to a third-place time of 16:07 and was only one second out of second spot. Cova finished ninth in 16:50 to give the NCSSAA three runners in the top 10.
While Taler, Heins and Cova were battling at the front of the pack, the Immaculata team of Noah Smith (19th in 17:18), Will McGregor (48th in 17:47), Matteo Padoin-Castillo (54th in 17:53) and Aleksander Meehan (107th in 18:42) emerged as the boys’ junior gold-medal winning team.
“It was incredible,” enthused Immaculata coach Joey Ozamiz in a phone interview. “We had high expectations going in. They were obviously a strong team coming out of the NC championships. We tried to stay at an even keel.”
Ozamiz talked to his runners after the race and found them a little down. The four runners thought their times weren’t fast enough to earn a medal.
But when Dillabaugh delivered the news to Ozamiz that Immaculata had won the boys’ junior team gold medal, it triggered a celebration.
Entering OFSAA, Immaculata won the NCSSAA boys’ junior team title, but were beaten by Louis-Riel at the previous meet, the East Conference championships.
“The boys were distraught when they lost the East Conference,” Ozamiz added. “We didn’t know what Louis-Riel was capable of. When we lost, it was a good thing, as the boys took it more seriously.”
On the National Capital high school cross-country blog, it was predicted that Immaculata would place second to Riel in a city finals race preview. There also were other reports that Immaculata may not be able to win the boys’ junior title.
“I used that as fuel,” Ozamiz said. “I stuffed it in the lockers of the boys’ junior runners. They were (upset) all week.”
Owen Siderus was a double silver medallist for Colonel By. He finished second in the boys’ novice 4,000-metre race in 14:06, which was eight seconds behind the winner. Hillcrest’s Charlie Mortimer was sixth in 14:45.
The Cougars team of Siderus, Austin Walker (26th in 15:11), Anthony Ghie (82nd in 15:58) and Kiran Dust (131st in 16:37), scored 241 placement points to earn the team silver medal.
Nepean scored one of its highest team results in many years, when the girls’ novice squad placed second with 235 points.
The Nepean team members were Tillie Pender (33rd in 17:33 over 4,000 metres), Edie Petrescue-Commene (36th in 17:41), Molly Hale (52nd in 18:02) and Olivia Voros (114th in 19:25).
“I was thrilled and proud of the girls,” Nepean co-coach James White wrote in an email interview. “Before the race, we discussed the possibility of a top-10 team finish or even a podium finish.
“The girls are superb athletes and work hard in every sport they play. These are focused athletes, who have high expectations for themselves. More importantly, they eagerly undertake all the training and the work it takes to perform at such a high level. They push each other, but they also support one another.”
A strong second lap allowed the Glebe girls’ senior squad to win the team silver medal. The squad consisted of Lauren Alexander (seventh over 6,000 metres in 23:43), Caitlin Gormley (41st in 25:46), Sophie Trott (61st in 26:27) and Sarah Flynn (116th in 28:02).
“In a race of this size, so many things need to go right and even small swings in points can make a difference,” Glebe coach Dillabaugh wrote in an email. “In the final kilometre, all our runners picked up valuable spots with Lauren Alexander moving from 14th to seventh, Caitlin Gormley from 49th to 41st, Sophie Trott from 70th to 61st and Sarah Flynn from 124th to 116th.
“Our team score dropped 32 points in the final kilometre and we beat Sarnia Northern by 11 points to earn silver. It was a true team effort.”
Grace Streek of Peak Centre Academy was the leader for most of the girls’ junior 5,000-metre race, but was again stymied by a stitch in the final stages and settled for the bronze medal in 18:17.
Ciara Villeneuve of Paul-Desmarais was fourth in 18:49 and Kate Johnston-Zemer of Ashbury took ninth in 19:23.
“In the beginning, I was super stressed,” said Streek, who transferred to Peak for Grade 10 from Merivale this year and had to win a transfer issue dispute to qualify for the cross-country running season. “I wanted it to be over.”
Streek was worried about getting another painful stitch in her side, the same one which affected her performance at the NCSSAA championships and left her in third place.
“I’m overly excited,” she said about winning the bronze. “I couldn’t be more happy. I didn’t expect it. I’m glad it went well. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I could race.”
Visit the Ottawa Sports Pages’ 2022 NCSSAA XC Championships webpage for more coverage, including race-by-race recaps of the city finals and photo galleries.
CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY APPROACHES FOR OTTAWA JR. RIDERS
The Ottawa Jr. Riders are one victory away from winning their 10th Quebec Major Junior Football League championship.
The Riders defeated Les Loups du Nord 32-23 in the semifinal and will travel to Empire Park on Sunday to face South Shore Jr. Packers, which defeated Chateauguay Junior Raiders 16-6 in their semi.
Ottawa, which captured league titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2018 and 2019, finished in first place during the regular season with a 7-1 record. South Shore was second at 6-2.
GEE-GEES FALL IN OUA FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS
The football season is over for the University of Ottawa, after the Gee-Gees fell 35-13 to the Queen’s University Gaels in the OUA semifinals.
The Gaels scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Gee-Gees, who trailed 17-10 after three quarters.
Receiver Nicholas Gendron combined with quarterback Ben Maracle for a 78-yard, pass-and-run play for the Gee-Gees’ only touchdown in the third quarter. Gendron finished the game with six catches for 146 yards.
Campbell Fair kicked the convert, added a 31-yard field goal and also booted a single. The Gee-Gees also earned a team safety.
Queen’s Richard Burton of Ottawa, who caught five Alex Vreeken passes for 108 yards, scored the Gaels’ final touchdown on a 45-yard punt return.
James Peters led the Gee-Gees’ defence with nine solo tackles and four assisted tackles.
DEFENCE KEY TO GEE-GEES’ 10TH OUA WOMEN’S SOCCER TITLE
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ won their 10th career OUA women’s soccer championship in impressive fashion, capturing all three playoff games and not allowing a single goal.
Playing the championship game on their home Matt Anthony Field, the Gee-Gees defeated York University Lions 1-0 on a penalty-kick goal by Nibo Dlamini during stoppage time in the first half.
Juliann Lacasse made one save for the Gee-Gees’ shutout.
U SPORTS WOMEN’S RUGBY BRONZE MEDAL GOES TO GEE-GEES
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees won two of their three games at the U Sports national university women’s rugby championship in Victoria.
After defeating University of Prince Edward Island 36-0 in the quarterfinals, the Gee-Gees fell 22-17 to defending champion Queen’s University Gaels 22-17 and dropped to the third-place game.
But the Gee-Gees earned the bronze medal with a 29-7 victory over the University of Guelph. Claire Gallagher led the Gee-Gees with 12 points, which included one try. The other Ottawa tries were recorded by Talia Hennessy, Deborah Oyetoran and Ketsia Kamba.
Sarah White was the Gee-Gees’ player of the game.
Kamba was named a U Sports first-team All-Canadian, while second team honours went to Gallagher and Georgia Stewart.
Look for more Ottawa Sports Pages coverage on Gee-Gees women’s rugby later this week.
GEE-GEES SETTLE FOR SILVER MEDAL IN RSEQ MEN’S RUGBY FINAL
The RSEQ men’s rugby silver medal was presented to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, after it lost the league championship game 31-24 to McGill University Redbirds.
Glenn Roy, Andreas Dionisopoulos and Jacob Harries scored tries for Ottawa, while Zak Campbell kicked three converts and one penalty.
Ottawa and McGill finished with identical regular-season records of 6-1.
Gee-Gees’ Theo Espagnol, Evan Roy and Harries were named to the RSEQ first all-star team, while teammate Connor Billo was selected to the second all-star squad.
ENGLAND EDGES CANADA IN WORLD WOMEN’S RUGBY SEMIFINAL
Fourth-ranked Canada will play for the bronze medal on Saturday at the world women’s rugby 15s championship in Auckland, after losing its semifinal to No. 1 England 26-19.
University of Ottawa’s Maddy Grant started her fourth game in a row and Alexandria Ellis, also of Ottawa, came in as a substitute and played 10 minutes.
MERIVALE REACHES QUARTERS AT OFSAA FIELD HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Merivale High School started strong, but finished just shy of the medal round at the OFSAA girls’ field hockey championship in Hamilton.
The Marauders opened with a pair of preliminary-round wins over St. John’s Kilmarnock, 2-0, and Holy Cross, 3-0. Merivale finished pool play at 2-1, after a 5-0 loss to eventual gold-medallist Bluevale.
In its quarterfinal, Merivale was blanked 3-0 by Bill Crothers.
Merivale (3-1-2) finished second to Nepean (4-1-1) in the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association regular season, but won the city final.
FINLAND STORMS PAST CANADA TWICE AT RINGETTE WORLDS
Host Finland totally dominated the world junior and senior ringette championships in Espoo.
Nepean Ravens’ Emma Kelly, Rachael Pelisek and Jalena Marelic and Gatineau Fusion’s Jasmine Menard never had a chance to celebrate a Canadian goal as Finland swept a pair of junior games 10-0 and 12-0. Canada had won the last three world junior titles.
Finland rolled past Canada 8-2 and 13-3 in the senior games as Fusion players Julie Vandal and Emily Chenier played for the Sam Jacks Trophy for the first time. Vandal earned one assist.
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 OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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