Oak Bay High lived up to its reputation winning first place in both the men’s and women’s High School Cross Country Island championships at Beaver Lake Park on Oct. 25.
Exceptionally talented Grade 12 Justine Stecko won the senior girls race running the 4.2-kilometre course in 16 minutes and 41 seconds while maintaining an even tempo to preserve energy for the Oct. 28 club provincials in Abbotsford.
Brentwood’s Madison Heisterman was second in 17:17 and St. Andrew’s Regional School athlete Bridget Mateyko, another Oak Bay resident, finished third (17:19). National level triathlete Collete Reimer of St. Margaret’s School was seventh.
Grade 11 Findlay Day held off the boys competition for first in the 6km race in 21:47. Second was Cooper Langard (21:49) from Parkland, who burned a few matches to see if he could catch Day, while third place Fraser Van Allen of Dover Bay, a Grade 10 student, cruised in at 21:57.
The question of the day was whether to wear spikes or regular running shoes. Many of the elites did wear spikes but not all. Stecko chose not to, hoping to avoid the carnage of a wayward spike, though she nearly regretted it.
“It was muddy but I just didn’t want to hurt myself [with spikes], but then I did slip a lot,” she said. “I guess it worked out.”
Day also went without spikes, knowing the race was about pacing and wouldn’t come down to a sprint for Day, who was able to fend off Langard while preserving his race legs for Saturday in Abbotsford.
“I was focused on my pace and using the downhills to build a gap, that is the only way I am going to win,” Day said. “The last 400 meters is not my strong suit, I’m not one for sprinting.”
Cowichan’s Jessica Castle won the junior girls race in 17:31, 10 seconds ahead of Maddy Perry (Glenlyon Norfolk School) in second and Emma Wong (Mark Isfeld) in third. Brentwood College athlete Keaton Heisterman won the junior boys race in 15:08, just ahead of Ethan Hart (John Barsby) in second and Jonah Brost (Stelly’s) in third.
While it’s certainly a trophy for the mantelpiece, the cross country Island championship has become an annual catch-22 for athletes. While it may seem a prestigious award to win the Island title, the reality is club provincials are three days later on Oct. 28, and that’s the focus for the top cross country athletes. Follow that with the B.C. high school provincials on Nov. 4.
“It’s just one too many races in a 10-day period,” said coach Bruce Deacon, who mentors most of the top middle distance youth athletes in Greater Victoria with the Prairie Inn Harriers club.
While Stecko, for example, barely lost her breath, others hit the deck after the finish line because they’d gone deep into the red.
“If you have kids who can medal at Islands, high school provincials and club provincials, it’s too demanding to race for the win in all three [in 10 days],” Deacon said.
Stecko ran in the senior women’s at club provincials on Saturday and finished 20th in the 6km run.
“Stecko went out too fast and blew up a bit, she didn’t run a tactically smart race and it cost her, glad she learned the lesson here and not at nationals,” Deacon said.
Nationals are in Kingston, Ont., at the end of November.
Deacon noted that Liam Dwyer of Mount Douglas, who was eighth at Islands, Alisa Lyesina of Oak Bay (the 2017 B.C. 800-metre champ), who was ninth, could both have competed a lot harder but obeyed instructions to run a tempered Island championship. Dwyer finished 15th at 17-and-under club provincials on Saturday, Lyesina was 14th.
Same went for Kalem Delaney, who was fifth at Islands. The Reynolds Grade 12 has been on the watch list since he showed up as a Grade 9 soccer player who could run all day. Bad luck saw Delaney suffer four different bone fractures in 2017, the latest coming in July.
“It’s been an incredible string of bad luck this year,” Deacon said. “Delaney dove across the finish line at an indoor race in Seattle in February and he broke his collar bone. Since then it was one after another.”
Delaney was 16th at club provincials in the 17-and-under, with Reynolds teammate Gabe Van Hezewijk in 13th. Both ran under the Prairie Inn Harriers team name as are Dwyer and Lyesina.
The first five finishers at the club provincials this weekend make the B.C. team for nationals. Two spots are open to athletes who do well at the B.C. High School Provincial Cross Country championships, Jericho Beach, Nov. 4.