‘I can race a lot better’

Women’s cross-country team aims to improve on strong provincial showing at national race

Following a third-place showing at the Ontario championships, the Huskies women’s cross-country team is aiming for a top-ten finish at the nationals.

For Jenna Freeman, who had placed sixth overall at the provincials with an individual time of 23:32.4, the races at the Ontario College Athletic Association (OCAA) championship were just an indication of what Freeman and her Huskies teammates can do at nationals.

“I think I can race a lot better than I did at Ontarios,” Freeman said. “Our team, I really think we can come top ten if everyone has a good race.”

To Freeman, a former Guelph and Western University track athlete, a “good race” at the nationals is all about effort.

“I just want to finish the race feeling like I gave it everything I have and I didn’t leave anything at the end,” she said. “If we finish like that, I think we’ll be happy.”

For his part, cross-country running head coach Nelson Njeru is making sure to instill in the team that competing at the nationals is a different animal.

“This is the nationals, they’re expecting stiffer, more challenging competition,” he said. “(Unlike the invitational races) everybody is the same level now.”

Njeru took the helm of the team following the departure of Michael Lavigne who served as the Huskies cross-country head coach for 11 years. Lavigne left after the season had started so Njeru had to learn about his team on the fly.

“You don’t walk in and install whatever you think for them,” he said. “You have to backup a little bit and try to understand the athletes first.”

Freeman said it was a little bit of an adjustment to work with a new coach after the season had already started, but the team had to trust the training Njeru was providing.

“And maybe we wouldn’t have our best races at the beginning or middle of the season, but we knew that (Njeru’s) main goal was for provincials and nationals.”

Having achieved a spot at the nationals, and the second third-place finish for the women’s team in three years at the provincial finals, Freeman is not content.

“If all of us have to just be confident and trust the training and just go out there and push ourselves as hard as we can and I think we’ll get a good result,” she said.

The cross-country nationals start on Nov. 10 in Blainville, Quebec.

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‘I can race a lot better’