Lakehead track team takes new strides at CIS meet
By Stephanie Simko
A trip to a national competition is a goal all university athletes strive toward. As some of the hardest working athletes in Thunderwolves sports, five members of the Lakehead Track team finally got to savour the rewards of hours spent on the track with a trip to CIS Nationals in Edmonton, Alberta. Sprinters Jessica Baraskewich, Katie Darcis, Vanessa Ivec, and Heather Maxfield, and distance runner Danielle Thiel, all qualified for CIS; the largest group to reach Nationals in the history of the track team, and it was the first time competing at this level for all athletes.
“The experience is really built up – you’re nervous and excited because this is the highlight of your season,” shared Thiel, who improved upon her 11th place ranking to finished 9th in the 3,000 m. “You get to run with the best girls in the country, we all got a lot of experience and know what we need to do to move up in the placings.”
Thiel explained that her tactics for the race were to stay in the mix and watch how her fellow runners do. With hopes of meeting the qualifying standard early in her season, Thiel hopes to keep her focus on being competitive in the season and building on her accomplishments from this season.
Maxfield, who ran a gutsy and risky race at the Winnipeg Bison Open to achieve a personal best time of 1:32.18 in the 600 m, finished in 10th place overall in her division. Though called an “off day” by others, Maxfield was content with her performance: “Everyone will say that you had an ‘off day’ if you didn’t run a personal best. I was fine with how I ran. Mentally, I was able to hold it together going into the race, and I was able to get out fast and get into the middle of the pack, which was my goal.”
Maxfield plans to continue racing in the outdoor season, as well as attend the Senior Nationals meet in Moncton at the end of June.
The women’s 4×400 m relay team – consisting of Baraskewich, Darcis, Ivec, and Maxfield – was the true underdog story of the meet. “No one – not even ourselves – expected us to be there. At the meet, you are with the best in the country but we worked hard to overcome obstacles and deserved it,” said Baraskewich. The obstacles referred to were the three of the four athletes that had yet to meet OUA standard in weeks coming up to the provincial competition. In a push to squeak out faster times, Baraskewich, Ivec, and Darcis dug deep to shock the field and run a new school record of 4:00.08 at University of Minnesota’s Parents’ Day Open. This momentum followed the team into OUAs where the team finished 6th in their heat and cemented a place for themselves at Nationals.
“Being part of a relay team is so different from running an individual event. Especially the 4 X 400, which is the last event of any meet,” said Ivec, a team veteran in her fifth and final year. “Everyone’s watching and cheering; the atmosphere is crazy. There’s less pressure but more in a sense that if you run poorly, maybe you can rely on your team to pick up your slack. But you want to run your fastest, not just because that’s what our sport’s all about, but because you have three other awesome teammates who are relying on you to get it done.”
The performance at CIS broke the Lakehead record again, shaving off two seconds with the anchor runner coming across the line at 3:57.82. All four athletes ran their fastest splits of their careers, with both Baraskewich and Ivec breaking sixty seconds for the first time ever.
Darcis, the rookie of the relay, anchored the team and said her experience is one she will never forget: “Juggling the commitment with school and track, we all invest a lot of time in training and to achieve an opportunity like this one is incredible. To be at an event with people who have reached the highest levels within their sport, it inspires you to work harder to push yourself farther.”
Darcis is looking toward a shift in her training program next year that has more of a focus on sprints and middle distance. “I enjoy the track, doing sprints and shorter distances, because it is so much more of an adrenaline rush opposed to endurance events like cross country,” she said.
“Overall, I am pleased with the meet. I was proud of the way the girls competed and stepped up to the challenge in their first taste of national level competition,” said Coach Kip Sigsworth. “All four athletes on the 4 X 400 m relay ran their lifetime fastest splits today so we have to be pleased with that. This weekend was a good step in the right direction but the goal is to use this experience as motivation to come back next season and be at an even higher level.”