by Cody Baugh
The CIS cross country season is underway and the Dalhousie Tigers are proving that they are a force to be reckoned with. On the women’s side, this is no surprise as Dalhousie has been a perennial powerhouse for the past thirty years, including four AUS championships in the last five years and they are currently ranked third in the nation. The most impressive part about the season thus far is the emergence of Matt McNeil and the Tigers men’s cross country team.
McNeil is a fifth-year civil engineering student and is making a name for himself on the Canadian cross country scene. Matt is undefeated in the first two races of the season, wining the first race, the SMU/DAL Invitational at Point Pleasant Park by 10 seconds. McNeil’s success at the AUS level is no surprise to anyone, as he’s been one of the Tigers strongest runners over the last couple of years, grabbing silver at the 2014 AUS championship. His AUS success has now translated on to the national stage as he won the New Balance Vic Matthews Open hosted by the eight-time defending CIS men’s cross country champions the Guelph Gryphons, this past weekend.
McNeil who placed 16th at the same event last year, blew the competition away on Saturday, finishing 20 seconds before second place runner Ben Workman (University of Guelph). Matt beat the best of the best with the two top teams in Canada, the Guelph Gryphons and Laval Rouge et Or, competing in the event. This is arguably the most difficult field McNeil will have to face until the CIS championships hosted by the University of Guelph in November. When asked about the big win in Guelph, McNeil said "It’s a big confidence boost, it feels good but I can’t let it go to my head, nationals are still two months away. I need to continue to work hard and stay healthy.”
This success has been snowballing since last season when Matt placed 12th at the CIS championship which is an unbelievable personal improvement considering that in 2013 he finished 105th. Matt attributes his growth as a runner to the knowledgeable coaching staff at Dalhousie and staying in shape in the offseason.
Looking forward to this year’s CIS championship, McNeil has proven he has the stuff to find a podium spot after beating last year’s silver medalist in Tristan Woodfine (University of Guelph) and sixth place finisher Aaron Hendrikx (University of Guelph) at the New Balance Vic Matthews Open. He will have another chance to prove his ability to win outside the AUS on October 3rd when the team travels to the AUS-RSEQ Interlock host by Laval.
The men’s team as a whole has been solid, placing second to StFX at the SMU/DAL Invitational and fourth at the New Balance Vic Matthews Open. They will have their work cut out for them at the AUS championship as StFX looks for their fifth consecutive title.
The women’s team is looking stronger then ever. Currently ranked as the third best team in the nation and the odds on favourite to achieve the “threepeat”, by winning the AUS championship for the third straight time. Led by the duo of Colleen Wilson and Ellen Chappell, the Tigers have been nothing short of dominate placing first at the SMU/DAL invitational with seven runners inside the top 10. Last weekend the Tigers went head-to-head with the University of Guelph at the New Balance Vic Matthews Open finishing second in team scoring against a field littered with talent. The squad has the ability to keep up with anyone in the CIS and will be looking for a medal finish at the CIS championship.
Head coach Rich Lehman and his cross country teams head to the StFX Invitational on Saturday, September 26 and will look to continue their hot start to the 2015 campaign.