SENTINEL secondary's cross-country running team scored two podium finishes - one an emphatic blaze of glory and the other a bit of delayed gratification - at the provincial championships held last weekend in Prince George.
Grade 10 runner Nicole Hutchinson provided the fireworks, warming up the icy course with a wire-to-wire win to become the third ever North Shore girl to claim a provincial cross-country title.
With 13-millimetre spikes in her shoes to tackle the snowy, two-lap course that included a monster hill climb, Hutchinson raced out to a big early lead. When her coaches caught sight of her at the end of lap 1 she was nearly 100metres in front. By the time she reappeared after lap 2 the gap was down to about 30 metres but Hutchinson was still going strong. The final sprint saw Hutchinson finish the 4.3kilometre course in a time of 17: 44, eight seconds ahead of Miryam Bassett of Nanaimo District secondary. Hutchinson could barely stand after she crossed the line, said Sentinel head coach Hugh Wilson.
"She really just left it all out there - she barely made it across the line but she did and it was a great victory," he said. "It took around 40 minutes to get her up and about but we finally got some chicken soup into her and she felt great again."
Wilson said that before the race the team expected Hutchinson to contend for a medal but secretly he believed she could run away with gold. She finished 19th as a Grade 8 runner and sixth last year.
"She is an extremely tough runner," he said. "We've seen that from the first workout she did with us three years ago, doing long intervals down at Ambleside. She just would not be beaten."
Sentinel's other medal came with a bit of confusion. At the award ceremony the girls' team was announced as the seventh-place finisher. A parent, however, checked the results online and noticed that one of the school's runners had not been counted. Organizers checked race photos and video, verified the mistake and bumped the Spartans all the way up to third place. Team totals come from a school's top five racers and along with Hutchinson the Spartans had Janna Maclean finish 43rd, Michelle Cheung 44th, Kelsey Shellard 56th and Mia Dommann 114th.
"I was really proud of the whole team," said Wilson. "They're a young team - all the girls were Grade 8, 9 and 10 with one Grade 12 - and I would say they far exceeded expectations. . . . They all made it possible. Nicole had a great individual victory but without her, without every one of those girls, we wouldn't have got third place."
Handsworth's Jesse Hooten was the top North Shore finisher in the boys' race, just missing the medals in fourth place. Hooten and Hutchinson, both members of the Hershey Harriers Athletic Club, won their respective divisions at the North Shore/Howe Sound high school cross-country championships held Oct. 24 in Brackendale.
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