These are exciting times in the realm of the Cambrian Golden Shield cross-country program.
For the first time since the days of Josh Bujold (circa 2008), the Cambrian men can boast a provincial medal contender in the fold, as Eric Leishman steps down from the OCAA coaching ranks, supplementing his academic resumé and taking aim at a national podium finish this fall.
Adding to the hype surrounding the New Sudbury campus, these days, is the fact that Leishman has company, as a group of seven to eight male participants have vaulted the Cambrian lads into the discussion of qualifying for the CCAA championships in Alberta (November 8th-9th), as a team, something that has not been seen in these parts since 2009.
A season opening race at Maiden Park in Windsor (site of the 2019 OCAA finals) last weekend confirmed what the most optimistic of folks at the home of the Shield might have dreamed possible, with Leishman finishing second only to Carter Free (St Clair) in the individual standings, while Cambrian slid nicely into fifth place as a grouping, their 98 point total nestled in between the fourth place Humber Hawks (80) and U of T Mississauga (138) in sixth.
“I definitely played it fairly conservative on my part, feeling it out and not having raced Carter Free before,” noted Leishman, addressing his time of 26:19.7 over the 8 km course, still a ways back from the host school freshman, who captured the race in an impressive time of 25:42.2. “I probably should have played it a little bit differently, just going out harder and kind of running my race.”
“When he made his move, I didn’t have a response. I kind of made a mistake in that sense.”
Since last competing for Cambrian some seven years ago, Leishman has been establishing quite the reputation on the Canadian marathon circuit, creating an interesting transition back to the shorter distances of cross-country, with the accompanying change of venues, as well. “I wouldn’t say that I made an adjustment, in the case of long runs and stuff, but more for the surface, for me,” he said.
“In cross-country, it’s quite soft and you don’t get as much traction from the grass as you do from the roads. The whole dynamic is so different, because you’re never completely comfortable on the hills or the terrain. It’s a matter of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable with all of the rhythm changes and that stuff.”
“It’s just so different from what I have been used to doing the past three to four years.”
While Leishman was viewed as an Ontario collegiate elite talent from the time he announced his intentions to return to school, the potential of the Golden Shield as a men’s team was anything but expected.
“We were kind of surprised with how we did, finishing fifth out of ten teams,” said Leishman. “We haven’t been there in about ten years, with a chance to make nationals.” That much was made evident thanks to the performances of Erich Mundt (27th – 30:33.2), Brandon Murray (44th – 32.19.9) and Aurel John Fox (52nd – 33:32.7), while the likes of Cameron Duff and Brennan Gregoire look to further close the gap.
“With us being closer to fourth than sixth is to us, it’s exciting from a team aspect,” said Leishman. “I’m going to run my race, and whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. But our team could evolve throughout the season and potentially get into the national rankings as we progress.”
“The most important people on the team are those third and fourth runners,” Leishman added. “They can make up more points than I can make up. If they are in the forties and move up six or seven spots each, that’s more of an impact than Erich and I.”
For his part, the native of Chapleau acknowledged that his contribution to the team can hopefully extend beyond simply adding a point total that will be counted on just one hand to the team composite score.
“I need to bring a calming influence, because of the experience,” he said. “I need to remind them that once the gun goes off, things take care of themselves. As long as you’ve taken care of your nutrition, that you have slept right, and that you have done the necessary training preparation in the weeks coming in, the race will take care of itself.”