UPEI cross-country men's team takes 'huge step' forward

The UPEI men’s cross-country team finished third at the AUS Cross-Country Championships in Wolfville, N.S. The team is, from left, Darcy Norton, Jacob Ezeard, Ryan Merrett, Alec Brown, Jeremy Thompson, Lee Wesselius and Brandon Higginbotham.
The UPEI men’s cross-country team finished third at the AUS Cross-Country Championships in Wolfville, N.S. The team is, from left, Darcy Norton, Jacob Ezeard, Ryan Merrett, Alec Brown, Jeremy Thompson, Lee Wesselius and Brandon Higginbotham.

UPEI made history on the weekend at the Subway Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Men's Cross-Country Championships.

UPEI finished third in the 10-kilometre race behind Dalhousie and St. F.X. at Hennigar's Farm in Wolfville, N.S., marking the first podium finish in the three years that UPEI has been competing at the AUS event.

"This is a huge step for the program,'' said head coach Colin MacAdam, adding it will help in his efforts to recruit P.E.I.'s top cross-country runners to UPEI.

"I think one of the things I made as a goal is I want to get every quality cross-country runner out of our province to go to UPEI. We won't, but we're certainly going to try. That's the goal.''

The UPEI men's team is comprised of Darcy Norton, Jacob Ezeard, Ryan Merrett, Alec Brown, Jeremy Thompson, Lee Wesselius and Brandon Higginbotham.

In the individual competition, Alex Neuffer of Stratford earned silver for the X-Men in a time of 31:58.00. Neuffer was also named to the AUS all-star team.

"In years past there's been quite a number of P.E.I. athletes run for other universities,'' MacAdam said. "Now we've got them on P.E.I., at UPEI (so) we're going to be moving up the ladder, so it's great.''

MacAdam said the course was the most challenging run his team has faced all season, explaining "that was the hilliest course we've seen all year''.

MacAdam said much of UPEI's success goes to Wesselius, someone the coach described as an inspirational leader for the team.

Wesselius ran four years for St. F.X. before enrolling in veterinarian medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown. The River Glade, N.B., native was UPEI's top finisher, posting a time of 32:57.12

"He's been very much a coach-athlete, so to speak. I think very highly of the rest of the team as well. They stepped up unbelievably . . .  (but) Lee Wesselius is the fastest guy on the team. He's the team leader in all ways. He's been a huge help.''

This is MacAdam's second year with the program, having taken over from Mike Peterson.

In team competition, the Tigers edged out the X-Men for the gold, snapping X's six-year win streak. It was Dalhousie's first cross-country title since 2010.

It was also a sweep for Dalhousie as the Tigers claimed the women's cross-country championship. The women competed on an eight-kilometre course.