The single greatest day in UBC Thunderbirds track and field team history ended with its head coach struggling to find the words.
“It’s overwhelming… I am not prepared for this conversation because I am just afraid I am going to leave someone out,” an awe-struck Laurier Primeau said after the ‘Birds, for the first time in program history, won both the men’s and women’s team titles in the same meet as the NAIA national championships wrapped up a blue-and-gold dominated three-day run in Gulf Shores, Ala. “My mind is spinning.”
UBC’s men’s team won by a comfortable 27-point margin over Mississippi’s William Carey University, while the women got clutch performances from seniors Enid Au and Sarah MacArthur in the 5000m final to edge Southern University-New Orleans 91-88 for its first-ever national team title.
Au’s second-place finish in the 5,000m (17:28.88) and MacArthur’s fourth-place finish (17:33.75) scored the ‘Birds 13 huge points to win the title, two more than the 11 they needed heading into the race, and typified UBC’s dominance in the endurance events.
Au was spectacular over the weekend, the senior from Vancouver’s Killarney Secondary also placing fifth in the 10,000m (37:24.80) on Thursday.
Yet as Primeau composed himself following the presentation of national championship banners, he touched on the biggest reason for UBC’s extra-rare serving of double gold.
“We needed to be well-rounded,” he began. “We will always be a middle-distance program (800m-through-5,000m), but we needed the other event areas to step up to support them, and those groups (throws, jumps, sprint hurdles), they all contributed points. When that happens we become pretty formidable. Other programs really focus on one event area, but if we keep diversifying like we have, we’re going to be pretty tough to beat.”
With such a large contingent of athletes, and the post-meet scramble on to pack up and head to New Orleans in a convoy of eight vans, all in preparation for Sunday’s return flight to Vancouver, Primeau took a scattershot scan over the weekend, listing some of the event’s more notable ‘Birds performances.
“For Rowan Hamilton to be ranked fifth coming and win a national championship in his freshman year was impressive,” he began of the rookie from Chilliwack’s Sardis Secondary who earned gold in the hammer throw Thursday with a two-metre PB of 63.50.
“How about Trinity Hansma?” he added of the Armstrong-Pleasant Valley rookie from the women’s team who on Saturday took high jump silver (1.73m). “She was also ranked fifth coming in.”
As well, there was Roan Allen winning silver in the javelin (70.74m).
And don’t forget about the formerly-wounded ‘Birds who had found their health and picked a fine time to shine.
Like Kenny Schultze, who clocked a 14:44 to finish fourth in the 110m hurdles and bag five huge points for his squad.
And Katherine Lucas, the ex-West Point Grey standout via SFU who in a super-fleet field in the 100m final, finished seventh to score a pair of crucial points with an 11.86-second clocking.
“Kenny got injured at the conference meet two weeks ago and he hadn’t run a step, and here he comes in fourth,” said Primeau. “And Katherine, after a full year away due to injury, she comes back to do what she does.”
The middle distance group, of course, remained the foundation.
“Kudso to the endurance program, they needed to fill their roles and contribute, too,” said Primeau. “It’s just that they have been so reliable.”
Yet truly, they were not being taken for granted by anyone.
“Nicola Symonds, she went out with a huge bang,” said Primeau of the fourth-year senior from Calgary who on her own collected 16 points with second place finishes in both the 1,500m (4:29.81) and the 800m (2:11.24).
A day earlier she turned in a sizzling 2:06.87 anchor leg, backing teammates Jamie Hennessey, Madelyn Huston and Mikayla Tinkham on UBC’s gold medal-winning 4x800m relay team.
“She was just remarkable,” the coach said.
Madelyn Brunt took silver in the 3K steeplechase (10:53.12) and Tinkham took fourth in the 1,500m (4:32.69).
On the men’s side, Kieran Lumb forged gold in the 5,000m (14:29.94) and bronze in the 1,500m (3:54.52). Rhys Kramer won the 1,500m (3:54.13) and was fifth in the 800m (1:52.99). Cole Dinsdale took bronze in the 3K steeplechase (9:19.72) and Tyler Dozzi was seventh in the 5,000m (14:53.15).
“And I would be re-miss if I didn’t talk about the racewalk program,” added Primeau who was named both NAIA men’s and women’s Coach of the Year. “Three men scored and two women scored and the thing that was really unique, is that if you added Enid Au to the mix, then our athletes from Killarney scored 35 points, I believe.”
Alger Liang from Killarney won the men’s 5K racewalk (21:54.35) while Killarney’s Erik Thies (23:28.82) finished fourth and Nathan Downey (24:12.06) sixth.
In the women’s 5K-racewalk, Killarney’s Joean Lu was second (26:01.90) while Audrey Fox (26:53.98) was sixth.
The numbers do indeed add up for former Cougars athletes with one gold (10 points), two silvers (16 points), a fourth (five points) and a fifth (four points).
The Birds’ javelin pair of Jv Patry-Smith (5th, 43.65m) and Giovanna Jones (7th, 42.98 metres) also tallied six points in the women’s narrow win.
“All weekend long, our student-athletes were not counting points,” said Primeau, who was set to drive one of the UBC vans over the three-and-a-half-hour trek to the Crescent City. “They didn’t have a spread sheet trying to calculate how much they could score. Instead, they were out there working for each other and remembering the teammates of theirs who didn’t get to nationals. They concentrated on just being a family and because of that, the points all just fell into place.”
With that, UBC headed off to the home of Mardi Gras, its eight-van convoy somehow fittingly representative of the many facets of the team which, over an historic weekend, all merged into the same lane and drove across the finish line together.
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