By Martin Cleary
When Kevin Shields became the new head coach of the Carleton University cross-country ski program last August, he knew he was inheriting a formidable team.
“Even though I was new to the team, I knew almost the entire team because I had seen them in the community or in previous races,” said the long-time nordic coach, who spent the last four seasons with the Nakkertok Nordic Ski Club.
“I coached some of them in club and I was a personal coach for one of the skiers.”
But what he didn’t expect was how last week’s Ontario University Athletics championships would unfold in Huntsville in such a one-sided and confusing manner.
The one-sided aspect worked in his favour as his Ravens women’s team swept the medals in the two individual races, won the top two medals in the relay (which had a maximum of two entries per school), earned the top four spots in the individual overall standings and captured the OUA women’s title for the 14th time.
“Carleton has been known to be one of the best in Ontario and Canada. For the past 12 years, it has been either Lakehead (University) or Carleton,” he added.
“But what has been a nice surprise is how much the athletes are involved in many areas, like the waxing room and trip planning. It has made it a nice transition for me.”
The confusing aspect also worked to Shields’ advantage, but it left him scratching his head.
At the OUA championship banquet, Shields was named the male coach of the year. But given the Carleton women’s team registered such a dominating performance after the two individual races, why didn’t Shields win the female coach of the year award?
Blame it on semantics. The OUA coaches vote for the coaches of the year. When they voted, were they selecting the top coach in each gender (male or female)? Or were they selecting the top coach who oversaw a women’s team or a men’s team?
“I was confused,” said Shields, who felt he should have been the OUA women’s team coach of the year. “But I was announced as the male coach of the year. There was some confusion. We’ll need to clear up what we are voting for.”
What was perfectly clear, however, was how strong the Ravens women’s nordic team performed at the OUA championships.
FISU Winter World Student Games skier Bronwyn Williams won the women’s 7.5-kilometre race ahead of Ravens teammates Maggie McClure and Helen McCulligh, who is competing this week at the Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island. The Ravens even had the fourth-place skier, Kate Mason.
In the women’s 15-kilometre mass-start test, McClure, a sixth-year student-athlete, Mason and Williams finished one-two-three respectively at the finish line. This time, McCulligh was fourth.
The relays saw Mason, McClure and Williams earn the gold medal, while Ravens teammates McCulligh, Mallory Williams and Emma Holmes took the silver medal.
Bronwyn Williams emerged as the OUA women’s overall individual champion based on her combined times in the two individual races, while the next three places were taken by McClure, Mason and McCulligh.
Carleton finished second in the men’s team competition as Colin Ward and Devon Pegrum had a pair of top-10 placings each in the individual races and Nathan Hay, a former competitive swimmer, had one result in the top 10.
Pegrum, Ward and Hay were sixth, seventh and 10th respectively in the men’s overall individual race standings.
“To have the top four in the (women’s) individual races and the top two teams in the relay is quite unique,” said Shields, who has coached about 28 years.
But Shields added the Ravens had a little bit of luck on their side.
“The University of Ottawa had two skiers (Shilo Rousseau and Zoe Pekos) at a biathlon competition (IBU Cup meet in Canmore, AB). The U of O missed those two athletes,” he added. “Shilo would have competed with the top four and Zoe would have been close.
“There also was a Laurentian (University) student who was unable to compete because of health reasons. We did have a bit of an opening.”
After a regular-season schedule of four strong meets in the region and no travel to the United States because of weather, the Ravens women’s team was fully primed for the OUA championships.
“They had a high level of confidence and they were relaxed as to what they were doing,” Shields explained. “They kept it fun competing among themselves.
“It must be a nice feeling as athletes that they were able to ski together. It was a pretty relaxed event for them.”
The Canadian College and University Nordic Championships will be held as part of the Nordiq Canada nationals March 11-17 in Thunder Bay. Carleton will send 19 skiers to CCUNC nationals.
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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 “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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