Photos by Catherine Goce
This summer McMaster University’s cross-country team’s head coach Paula Schnurr finalized her recruiting class, bringing 11 new members on board. Seven of these members joined the women’s program, making it the largest cross-country women’s recruiting class ever at McMaster.
After losing a significant number of runners at the end of last season, building up the program with strong female runners was a goal of Schnurr’s. Her recruiting efforts landed her Renelle Briggs of Whitby, Ont. who finished in sixth place in the 2000 m steeplechase at the 2018 Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Track and Field Championships. Before that Briggs also earned a 27th-overall finish at the OFSAA Cross Country Championships in the fall of 2017.
It was on her first visit to McMaster last August that Briggs immediately fell in love with the school.
“I just really fell in love with the coach,” said Briggs. “I talked to other coaches as well but none gave me the same kind of vibe that Paula did. She was also the first one to send a letter so that speaks to me a lot as well.”
Schnurr’s vibe and the way she runs her team is often highly praised amongst her runners like first-year Oshawa, Ontario native Kendra Hawke.
“I think a big part of it had to do with Paula Schnurr,” said Hawke. “She came to visit our club and she’s just the cross-country mom as well as your mom away from home.”
For Hawke, it also helped that McMaster offered what she was looking for academically with its Engineering program.
Along with Briggs and Hawke, Caroline Forbes, Hope Harnack, Sarah Turner, Sarah Nolan and Shannon Porter will join the Marauders this season. For Briggs being able to be on a team with runners that she has been following over the last four years has been a full-circle moment.
“I knew the names but I didn’t actually know them, but when I got to meet them they were all so nice,” said Briggs. “They are all such great training partners and I’m really glad that we’re all on the team together.”
Being able to have six others to relate to during this big transition has been a support system in itself for the women. As it is for all students the adjustment from high school to university is not an easy one, but to be a varsity athlete on top of that can often be extremely overwhelming. Having teammates you can form that tight bond with provides that reassurance.
“High school was nice and yeah you have a little family but I feel like McMaster, especially the cross-country team, they’re literally welcoming you with open arms into the team,” said Hawkes. “You are not just a rookie coming on to the team, you’re part of the team as soon as you’re there.”
Starting their training with the team a week before the beginning of school, both Briggs and Hawkes got their first taste of university-level racing. They started off with some easier workouts and now are transitioning into building up more with their base workouts before racing starts and they cannot work out as much.
With their first tournament at the University of Buffalo Stampede Invitational, the ladies showed their hard work beforehand paid off. Rookie Forbes led the charge in the women’s 6K coming in 32nd followed by Briggs at 46th, Nolan at 57th, Porter at 66th and Harnack at 75th.
With this being just the beginning of the season, both Hawkes and Briggs have their minds set on ways to keep improving.
“For this year I’d like to see an improvement in my running not just physically but mentally because I’ve had a few rough cross-country seasons,” said Hawkes. “But I would definitely like to get faster, just see myself improve mentally and physically as a runner.”
For Briggs her eye is set on the prize with aspirations of winning big.
“I really want to make the top seven on the team for U Sports,” said Briggs. “I also would love to make Team Canada at club nationals. Not sure if it’s going to happen but it’s been a goal I’ve had for the last couple years.”
Though nothing is promised, this for sure is guaranteed: their first season at McMaster will be one like no other.