The Mustangs track and field team ended their season on a high note in Edmonton earlier this month, with the women's team ending third and the men's team ending fourth in the final major event of the year: the U Sports competition.
For a few of the top veterans, it was their last competition for the Mustangs. The teams headed into the competition on a high after a hugely successful OUA provincial championship a few weeks before.
At the OUAs both the men and women’s team finished second overall; the women’s team only missed the top spot to Guelph by 9.5 points. The weekend was packed with key performances and big results.
“As much as we wanted to take the OUA title, we couldn’t have asked anything more from anyone else,” said pentathlete Kaleigh Hole. “It’s nice to know the OUA title is in reach.”
Both Hole and veteran Joy Spear Chief-Morris came away with some of the best results of their Western careers.
A few athletes on the team who came into the competition seeded outside of the point-earning places had breakthrough results and even brought home a medal.
Both teams went into the competition ranked third and went home in second, beating out rival team Toronto.
Fast forward to the U Sports championships, where the Mustangs came out of the weekend with 11 medals — one gold, three silver, and seven bronze.
On the first day of the championship, the Mustangs won two bronze medals, though only a handful of medals were available to be won on the first day, with the majority of the competitions to come.
On the second day of U Sports competition, the Friday, Western took home six medals.
Team veteran and medal hopeful Jack Sheffar was running the men’s 3000m and was in a position to medal toward the end. Unfortunately, an error with the lap counter meant the athletes heard the bell for the final lap too early, and Sheffar stopped running with one lap to go.
Sheffar thought he had finished in second, but after sprinting on the second-last lap he couldn't finish the race.
“He was heartbroken and it crushed us as a team," said coach Derrick Johnston. "The energy was down."
Saturday, the final day of competition, was a test for the team, bearing the brunt of sport and life's unpredictability. The weight of family tragedies, missed podium runs and costly officiating errors was heavy on the team’s shoulders.
Nevertheless, the team rose to the challenge, winning the men’s 4x400 relay and finishing second in the women’s 4x200.
“The relay team came out and ran the race of their lives,” said men’s team captain Riley Bell.
When asked what she valued most this season with Mustangs track and field, Hole praised the closeness of the team.
“This year the team really bonded," said Hole. "From distance runners to jumpers to sprinters, the team really came together and we are truly a family.”
Though the results of the national championships didn't all go the way Western wanted, the team managed to come together in difficult times and finish in third over for the women’s competition and fourth for the men’s. The Mustangs finished the weekend with 11 total medals — one gold, three silver and seven bronze.
The men's team also improved their final standing on the national level, from seventh in 2016 to fourth this year.
Going forward the team is hopeful for what the future holds. They are losing many of the key veteran athletes, but the team has acquired interesting depth and has done some recruiting work. They hope to keep building on the same team chemistry that has brought the team to where it is today.