The Golden Bears cross country team earned an eighth place at the 2022 U Sports Championship, while the Pandas finished in 14th place.
The Bears and Pandas started their cross country season in the Sled Dog Open over the first weekend of October. The Bears were led by Riley Stuermer, taking second place, while Will Cebuliak and Ron MacLean took third and fourth places respectively. Taking five of the top 10 spots, the Bears finished their opening weekend in first place.
A week after the Sled Dog Open, the Bears and Pandas travelled to Langley to compete in the Trinity Western Open. The Pandas were led by Olivia Cooper, but didn’t place, while the Bears finished in second place overall. Stuermer once again led the Bears, taking first place himself. Bears Cebuliak and Cassian Murray-White followed behind Stuermer in sixth and 10th places, respectively.
The next week, the Bears and Pandas traveled to Calgary to compete in the Stewart Cup.
Calgary’s race was led by Grace Cook and Flaman for the Pandas, as well as Logan Arthur and Mathew Cornect for the Bears. Each of the teams had two runners placing in the top 10, and both finished third.
In the Canada West Championship, MacLean earned a second-place medal, followed by Murray-White in ninth. Overall, the Bears team finished second-place. The Pandas also earned themselves a top spot, taking fifth-place overall. The teams then went on to compete in Halifax for nationals.The Bears and Pandas finished their season in Halifax, taking home eighth and 14th places, respectively.
Sean Baynton, the head coach of the Bears and Pandas cross country teams, said the weather proved “difficult” for the athletes in Halifax. Before the event, Hurricane Nicole had left its toll on the course.
Baynton said that the wind and rain “changed how the race [was] going to unfold.” He added that while the team is happy with their finishes and “what they could do” at the U Sports Championship, they are “not satisfied.”
Many of the athletes competed at U Sports for the first time this season. Facing the larger number of athletes racing, as well as a new course and difficult weather, proved a challenge for the teams.
“You can’t prepare for those types of scenarios, unless you’ve been there,” Baynton said.
In the 2023 season, Baynton said the Bears will focus on replacing two of their senior racers, Stuermer and Brendan Simone.
“Where we’re focusing [on] is recruiting … more talent, coming in as rookies.” The head coach went on to note the difficulty teams face when players that support the team culture leave.
“It’s really hard to replace [a player] who just espouses your team culture on a daily basis.”
Baynton said that next season, the Pandas will look to improve, as the team will retain most of its athletes. The Pandas look to take the next step, with the potential to not lose any of their team in the next season.
“To go from finishing 15th to being [at the top] doesn’t actually take that much. It’s more about execution … it’s more about learning how to run a national [championship].”