After some key departures from last year's Canada West championship teams, both the men's and women's cross country squads have a lot to prove this season.
Three out of seven members from last year's Dinos women's CIS team have graduated, as have four from the men's.
Head coach Doug Lamont thinks that despite these losses, the women's team is still in a good position to compete this year. Their run for a CW championship repeat is bolstered by Heather Stark, who was forced out of competition last year with an injury, and first-year Dino Grace Kary, recently graduated from William Aberhart High School.
"The exciting part is that we still have a strong nucleus of returning athletes," says Lamont. "Right now we don't have that kind of superstar out front, but we do have a strong group that, if they work as a group, can do well."
The men's side faces a similar situation, having lost a significant portion of the team to graduation. Despite recognizing the team is quite young, Lamont feels it has the potential to be competitive this year.
"We've got several guys who were on the edge of making the team last year, who will be looking to contribute," says Lamont.
He is particularly excited about the return of Matt Cloutier, who was relegated from contention due to an ankle injury all of last season.
Lamont notes that having a younger team could be a larger hindrance for the men's side. Unlike female athletes who are often competitive right out of high school, it takes male runners longer to reach the physical maturity necessary to compete at the 10-kilometre distance.
The Dinos race schedule begins this weekend with the Terry Fox run, followed a week later by a time trial for the coaches to select this year's traveling roster. The Dinos head to the University of Saskatchewan on Oct. 3, where they will face most of their Canada West competitors for the first time this year. After that, they come to a novel point in their season. They will be racing in Moscow, Idaho at the University of Idaho open. This race will take place during halftime of the Idaho-Hawaii football game and will be broadcast on the screens.
Co-captain Scott Nicol is looking forward to the race in Idaho.
"I think Idaho is going to be a great experience because it's a much bigger race than we are used to," he says.
After Idaho, the Dinos will head to Edmonton for the annual Stewart Cup. The race is held in memoriam of the two Stewart brothers, one who ran for the Dinos the other for the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who were lost mountaineering in Russia in 2003. The race is held alternately at the U of C and the U of A and is the first 10-kilometre race the men face in the season.
"That's kind of the last tune up in preparation for CIS," said Lamont.
CIS finals will be hosted by Queens University in Kingston, Ontario in November. The race will be held near Fort Frontenac, the site of a historic battle during the Seven Years War. The Dinos last raced there in 1999.
"I think it's going to be a pretty similar course, and it's a deceivingly challenging one," says Lamont. "It's set up for spectators and it's going to be a dry run for the FISU [International University Sport] championships."
The Canadian National team for FISU will be selected at CIS.
Co-captains Nicol and Riley McQueen are both looking to repeat as Canada West champions.
"For the [women's] team I would expect nothing less than top three in CIS," says McQueen. "And I would love to return as champions of Canada West."
Nicol has the same aspirations for the men's side.
"We definitely want to be CanWest champs," he said. "I think a medal for us at CIS might be a hopeful goal, but it is possible."