In theatre, a commonly heard superstition is how a bad dress rehearsal makes for a great opening night.
Coming off of a Centennial Invitational spoiled by bad luck and injuries, George Brown's cross country squad followed it up with arguably their finest performance of the season, one which booked the women's team's trip to nationals.
Participating in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) Championships, hosted by Fanshawe College at the beautiful Fanshawe Conservation Area, George Brown's runners looked unfazed by the day's cold and rainy conditions.
"It was a great challenge to be out in the rain," said Huskies runner Marisa Lazo, whose 6 km (3 km loop repeated) run began at 11 am. "It makes you tap into your wild side."
Led as they have been all season by first-year Husky Jenna Freeman, the women's side put forward a combined score of 73 and time of 1:40:05.1, good for third among the 13 qualifying teams. Freeman continues to cement herself among the province's best, with a fourth top-ten finish in five tries. Coming off an achilles tendon twist which felled her at Centennial, the Orillia native's time of 23:32.4 ranked eighth among the 88 runners who completed the course.
Joining Freeman on the women's side were Katie Holman (14th; 24:36.9), Angelee Weathers (28th; 25.37.7), Marisa Lazo (40th; 26:17.9) and Loreto Gajardo (59th; 28:11.4). Together, their bronze medal result means the team is off to Quebec in two weeks, with the CCAA Championships being hosted by Lionel-Groulx on Nov. 10 and 11.
"We did an amazing job as a team and we really earned it," beamed Lazo. "I'm super proud of everybody."
With three OCAA medals over the last eight years, including a bronze in 2015-16, George Brown's women's team is no stranger to success. It's a history which Huskies head coach Nelson Njeru is both well aware of and proud to help continue.
"Very happy for the team, very happy for George Brown, that we remain in the limelight as a potential powerhouse for running, (as well as) women's dominance," Njeru said. "We've had good results previously with the women's, and that's good that we're keeping it up."
For the men's 8 km (3 km loop plus 5 km loop) run at noon, George Brown was again paced by another first-year Husky in Nicholas Karpiuk (44th; 29:26.8), as the Huskies finished 14th out of 22 schools.
The Fitness and Health Promotion student was joined by Branden Thorburn (51st; 29.57.7), Yirenchi Dodi (76th; 32.27.1), Matthew Melaragno (88th; 33:40.0) and Dorian Heathcote (101st; 36:35.2).
Though their season has just ended, Njeru already has a clear idea of what the men's team needs to take the next step and join the women's runners on the national stage.
"Cross country at the moment is all determined by if you have the speed," he said. "Everyone has the ability to finish, they have the endurance, but speed is a factor. We have to revamp on teaching them speed from day one."
Throughout the year, Njeru and his staff have been keeping track of their team's progression across training and tournaments. Fanshawe Conservation Area's course makes for an especially good comparable, considering it was the race which kicked off the 2017 season on Sept. 16. The results are a testament to both Njeru's program and his athletes' dedication and buy-in.
After posting a time of 31:30 and a pace of 3:56/km on Sept. 16, Karpiuk's times on the same course today dropped to 29:26 and 3:41/km. Likewise, Thorburn went from 32:45 and 4:06/km to 29:57 and 3:45/km, and Dodi moved from 35:13 and 4:24/km to 32:27 and 4:03/km.
The pattern repeats for George Brown's women's runners, with the most improved numbers going to Lazo, who went from 28:12 and 4:42/km to 26:17 and 4:23/km.
After an arduous season of training before, between and through tournaments, George Brown's performance on the year is a testament to the inspirational line, "The pride you gain is worth the pain."
There was pain to be sure, but the women's team now has the pride of being provincial bronze medalists, and for all George Brown runners, being better athletes than they were less than two months prior.
The Huskies aren't looking to end that journey of betterment at Fanshawe. The task now is to truly peak in two weeks' time.
For the 2017 OCAA Championships overall finish list, click here.
For the 2017 OCAA Championships women's final team results, click here.
For the 2017 OCAA Championships men's final team results, click here.