Sentinel and Handsworth senior girls were one and two respectively at the recent provincial cross-country championships at Beban Park in Nanaimo.
Sentinel Secondary took the top provincial spot on Nov. 3, even though two of their runners were only in Grade 8 – and Handsworth Secondary took the number two spot, four short years after launching a cross-country program.
Coach Mark Fenn said it was an “unreal day” for the Sentinel female athletes, who ran in the rain through muddy terrain. Sentinel didn’t have enough runners for a junior team, so the younger students were called up to the senior team, a move Fenn does not regret.
“It paid off – the two of them ran beyond their years,” Fenn said.
Fenn said the girls “ran smart,” running as a team and staying together as a pack. The Sentinel team consisted of Grade 11 students Ehren Paterson, Emmajean Neal, Gabrielle Bourgault-Kennaley and Jade Clement, Grade 9 student Sofia Day, and Grade 8 students Sidney Clement (on the same team as her sister Jade) and Rio Trotzuk.
Sentinel had 27 points in the end, the second lowest score recorded in the history of senior girls cross-country, with a combined total time of one hour 38 minutes 43 seconds. Handsworth’s total time was 1:42:24 and they had 52 points for the second-place finish.
Sentinel’s Paterson crossed the finish line in sixth place with a time of 24:11.
Two of the Grade 11 students who were part of the Sentinel team were on the provincial podium for the third time, after winning juniors in 2015 and seniors 2016.
Going into the provincials, the favourites to win were Sentinel, Oak Bay and Walnut Grove, but Fenn didn’t anticipate such good results coming from the North Shore.
“We knew our zone was strong, but we didn’t know how strong,” he said.
Handsworth Secondary had neither a track program nor a cross-country program four years ago, something that surprised North Vancouver resident Ryne Melcher because the school had a track.
Melcher volunteered to run both programs, and started with just a handful of students that first year. The program started growing organically as word spread. This year they had 55 students taking part in the cross-country program.
“The more people you get involved, it becomes the cool thing to do,” said Melcher, who is a community coach and who also coaches the Canadian national ultra-running team.
He credits staff support at Handsworth Secondary with helping the teams get organized and taking care of the bureaucratic side of the sport.
“I just like the coaching side of things – not the paperwork,” he said.
Three of the core runners who were part of the senior team this year were some of the first kids who started with Melcher four years ago.
Four senior teams were sent from the North Shore zone to provincials, and all four ended up in the top-eight, Melcher said, impressive given there were about 40 teams competing.
Cross-country athletes at Sentinel are the epitome of multi-sport kids, Fenn explained, some are swimmers, others rowers and soccer players.
Cross-country provides a good aerobic base for other sports, but to do well in cross-country, it takes grit to push through the pain of the sport, he added.
“You have to put in the time and effort,” Fenn said.