As the U of A prepares for nationals on their home campus this weekend, the school’s top performers represent the improved stature of local track and field over the last few years.
One of the events most likely to produce medal contenders for the U of A this season is the 60-metre sprint. On the women’s side, sophomore sprinter Leah Walkeden and first-year Katrina Martin both medaled at the Canada West championships, as did second-year Golden Bears athlete Benjamin Williams. What connects all these athletes are their roots in Edmonton high schools.
The three athletes represent some of the U of A’s best chances to win more medals at CIS championships this weekend. Even seeing the athletes coming through high school track and field now and hearing about their results impresses the athletes currently competing at the CIS level for the U of A.
“When I went through high school track, there was definitely not a lot of performances where you’d say, ‘Oh my God, look at what this person did in high school.’ Now you look at world rank times being made in high school in Edmonton, in Alberta. We have the athletes who can stick it then and who can go and do it at world level,” Walkeden said.
This situation for the U of A, especially on the women’s side, is unique, with two sprinters still fairly new to CIS competing for medals after Martin won gold and Walkeden won silver at the CanWest championships. While the two remain friends off the track, when it comes time to compete at events like CanWest and CIS, they maintain that these meets are all business.
“We kind of avoid each other a bit when we’re on the track. It’s not necessary to talk to her and likewise. But it’s no hard feelings or anything,” Martin said. “We both know that we’ve got our zones and we stay out of each other’s way.”
Looking towards the future for the team, the Edmonton area looks to continue to be a consistent source of good athletes from which the U of A can choose. New associate athletics director Wes Moerman has seen a greater amount of dedication bringing in more potential athletes.
“We’ve seen more recruits coming through and taking tours than I ever have in five years of track,” fifth-year Pandas senior Kathryn McCaffrey said. “This year alone I think I’ve met more recruits than I’ve met in my whole other four years.”
A strong performance from the U of A’s smaller roster size this season could encourage more of those recruits to choose the U of A. According to Pandas senior McCaffrey, the large number of potential recruits coming from the Edmonton area this season can be attributed to the dedication athletes now put into the sport.
“I think our generation finally discovered track and field. A lot of us just thought it was one of those days you just had in junior high once a year,” McCaffrey said.
“All of a sudden, the track culture has appeared in a whole bunch of different schools where people are doing it like club volleyball. They’re doing club track and field, which is really cool because a lot more people are getting into it now.”
With this discovery, the U of A will head into nationals this weekend and a promising future led by home-grown athletes representing the city of Edmonton.