The St. F.X. Invitational cross country meet is set for Saturday on the Antigonish campus.
Start time for the women’s and men’s races are 12 and 12:45 p.m., respectively.
“It gives our team a little extra incentive,” St. F.X. head coach Eric Gillis said, when asked about his runners having the opportunity to compete on their home course.
He noted the X-Men and X-Women will be ready to perform for the home fans.
“It breaks up the rhythm,” Gillis said of the course, while noting the “technical” challenges it provides to athletes.
With its configuration, including corners that lead to runners having to slow down, he added, it tests them with “changing pace.”
Gillis said he expects a strong field for the meet, including top runners from universities across the AUS.
“It is going to be as competitive as ever,” he predicted of the upcoming season in the conference.
Gillis talked about the campaign, which kicked off Sept. 15 at the UPEI Invitational in Charlottetown (results were unavailable at press time), the morning after what he described as a “big workout” for the X-Women and X-Men.
“We were commenting on how smoothly everything was going – maybe too smoothly,” the first-year coach said of his conversation with assistant Gina MacInnis during the session.
He added the “flow” the runners showed is what they want to carry over to their races.
“We have a good group of athletes,” Gillis said of the X-Women, noting they are “much healthier,” as a unit, after battling injuries last season.
He added they are “training really well together.”
One of the X-Women’s strengths will be depth, including a quartet of seniors led by Rachel McDougall, of Lakevale, Antigonish County, who finished fifth in last season’s conference championship race.
Hana Marmura – like MacDougall, a product of the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School product – Catherine Thompson and Zoe Johnston, are also key returnees.
Leading the way, when it comes to newcomers, is another Antigonish product – Aidan MacDonald – a highly-recruited freshman.
The X-Women finished second in the AUS in 2018.
When it comes to the X-Men, who also raced to second in the conference last season, Gillis said he is “quite excited.”
Angus Rawling, the 2018 AUS individual champion, is back in blue and white for his fourth season.
“He is running really strongly,” the X-Men mentor said.
Antigonish native Paul MacLellan and Alex Neuffer are also key seniors on the squad.
“We have all of our top runners back from last year,” Gillis noted.
He added the X-Men also have some “young blood,” who he expects to contribute this season, including freshman Luc Gallant and Aidan Doherty, who is the 1,500m provincial high school record holder in his native B.C.