The Western Mustangs men's cross country team had a strong finish to their 2016 season, taking home the bronze medal at the CIS Championships on Saturday in Quebec City, the first medal for the program since 2010.
The six Mustangs earned an overall team score of 96, trailing only Trinity Western, who had 88 and gold medallists Laval who won the event with a score of 43.
Jack Sheffar led the Mustangs, finishing with a time of 31:18.6, good for ninth of 162 in the meet. Chris Balestrini finished 11th and Ben Carson finished 12th overall. Rounding out the Mustangs top five were Muhumed Sirage, who was 28th overall with a time of 31:44.6 and Matt Sheeler who finished 46th overall with a time of 32:15.2.
"I think everyone ran really really well," said Sheffar on the team's performance. "Obviously we were able to grab a medal which is the first time since 2010 that the men have medaled. So based on that, despite how hard the course was everyone ran really close to their potential and everyone is fairly happy with how they ran.”
Sheffar, Balestrini and Carson were all named second team All-Canadians due to finishing in positions seven to 14 in the national championship meet.
The Mustangs were happy with the bronze medal but after finishing less than 10 seconds off Trinity Western's overall score there was a sense of disappointment in not being able to capture the silver.
“We weren’t surprised," said Sheffar on exceeding expectations en route to the bronze medal. "We had high expectations for ourselves going into the race. We wanted to race and see if we had the chance at winning. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t grab the silver but all the guys are pleased with the race."
Head coach Guy Schultz, who was named the Ontario University Athletics coach of the year, was pleased with the team's performance on the gruelling Quebec City course.
“The course condition was windy, cold, muddy and rocky," said Schultz. "It was the hardest course we ran on this fall but every other team went through that too. It definitely challenged the best so it’s a good course to see who are the best cross country runners."
Overall the team is pleased with the performance and the season as a whole. The program exceeded expectations heading into the season as they were ranked outside of the national top ten.
“I think all the guys are thrilled with how everything went and how we raced," said Sheffar. "Everyone had personal bests and had their best finished at OUA and the [CIS] meets. Especially considering we were ranked 11th at the beginning of the season now we were able to finish third.”