It’s the final grand prix of the season. After a long and treacherous 10 weeks, it all comes down to this. 100 runners will compete to become a National Champion in cross-country running, but only one will be crowned the winner.
While NAIT didn’t land the winner spot, the revitalized team had a great ending to a magnificent season—a moment that represents an important building block for a program that hasn’t had a season since 2014.
Returning to the ACAC after a nine-year hiatus, NAIT had two athletes qualify for the CCAA National Championship in Truro, Nova Scotia: Hannah Warford and Shawn Gunnink.
Through a year of unknowns and learning experiences, Warford, a first-year Interior Design Technology student, was a bright spot for the young Ooks program.
“I was very happy with how much I improved … my time from my first run with hardly any practice compared to my last one was a four-minute difference,” said Warford.
Over three races, the Alix, Alberta native accumulated an impressive average finish of 18.3.
She completed the Nova Scotia Grand Prix in 26 minutes and 13 seconds, just five minutes and 14 seconds short of the women’s national champion.
This was an impressive start for Warford’s first year, and with several more seasons of eligibility ahead, she’s one to watch.
In the men’s bracket, Shawn Gunnink was consistently on top. Over the four grands prix on the schedule in 2023, Gunnink came home in the top 15 three times—the most on the team for the men’s side.
The first-year Construction Engineering Technology student finished the final grand prix in an impressive 29 minutes and one second, five minutes and 24 seconds behind the men’s winner.
Despite coming up empty handed, the team returned from Nova Scotia with some experience to build off for next season and beyond.
“The reality is that qualifying for nationals became our goal as the season progressed,” said Head Coach Ron Barnhart. “At nationals, both ran well but, more importantly, both gained valuable experience in the hope of returning to nationals next year and making an impact.”
As the team begins to look to 2024, they are hoping this season’s success will convince more to join the group next fall.
“Our team only had five people because there was a lack of interest this year because the program wasn’t very well known yet,” Warford said. “There is a lot more interest for next year, so that is a win.”
“I’m very proud to have been able to go [to nationals] … and I really hope more people join us next year.”
Photo via Jesse Nash, NAIT Content Collective