If the Dover Bay Dolphins senior boys cross-country team is going to break out of their provincial bronzemedal rut, it will be an effort powered by Grade 11 twins Peter and Thomas Oxland.
The Dolphins have won bronze five of the past six years at provincials, including in 2011. Their title run gets underway today at Beaver Lake Park in Saanich with the Island Championships.
The Oxlands are considered among the favourites not just for today's race but at the B.C. School Sports championships on Nov. 2 at Aldergrove Lake Park in Langley.
But they will have plenty of schools in their way, including Oak Bay Secondary and Reynolds Secondary out of Victoria, who finished first and second respectively last year, and Carihi Secondary out of Campbell River who has developed a strong program as well.
"The group is a good age now, we've got a number of Grade 11s and Grade 10s. .. it's a team that's matured," said Dolphins coach Bob Saunders. "They're certainly in the conversation, in terms of winning the Islands and provincials."
The Oxlands have developed into two of the premiere long distance runners in the province, both coming off of monster summers.
Peter is the better cross-country runner of the two, also competing mainly in the 1,500-, 3,000-and 5,000-metre events with the Oceanside Track and Field Club out of Parksville. This year he qualified for Team B.C. for the Legions Junior National Track and Field Championships in Langley.
This summer, he was also the fastest runner at Westwood Lake's Run for the Mountain, finishing in a time of 20:56.
He already has three podiums under his belt this cross-country season, including three gold medals and a bronze last Thursday at the Big Rock meet on the provincial course.
But the weight of expectations are not getting to him.
"There's not too much pressure, because I have a good group of guys to train with, so we compete every practice, so competing at provincials won't be any different," he said.
Thomas is no slouch. His specialty is the 800-metre run, a relative sprint compared to the 6.8-kilometre course they will run today. But his 800-metre earned him a spot on the Canadian junior national team that competed at the World Youth Track and Field Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine.
"The experience is why I went," said the older-by-a-minute of the identical twins. "After worlds, provincials and nationals seemed to be on a smaller stage, so I didn't get as jittery and nervous. So then I can pass my experience on. .. to the whole team."
He is still a threat in crosscountry, however, and has been getting better as the season has gone on, placing fifth at Aldergrove, his best finish of the season, using his strong kick to get there.
He is hoping he can continue that move up the podium in Saanich.
The two do get along, and use each other to push themselves in competition.
"We try to work together, we don't really fight at all," said Peter.
They are surrounded by several other strong runners on the team
that will be critical to Island and provincial team success. Fellow Grade 11 twins Anthony and Chris Serban who competed for the Nanaimo Track and Field Club at nationals in the steeplechase will be right in the mix for a podium, and Grade 10 runners Miles Hyun and Carter Higgins will push as well. They will, however, be missing one of their leaders Grade 12 captain Andrew DeGroot, who is out with an injury.
At Aldergrove, Anthony Serban was sixth, Chris Serban was seventh and Hyun was eighth. "Peter works hard so we all work hard with him, we bounce of each other's energy," said Thomas.
"It's not just the top five, it's going down to numbers six, seven and eight, we're all working hard in practice."
The Island course is a three-lap loop that varies the terrain from grass to dirt with straight-aways and hills. They spent time training on the course this September while also at Neck Point, Pioneer Park and Westwood Lake.
The girls team graduated most of their top runners from last year's team that placed eighth overall at provincials, but they should still be in the mix for a top four placing at Islands and another provincial berth.
They will be led by Grade 12 runner Emily Grey and Danika Rasmussen in Grade 11, while a couple of Grade 8 athletes - Cara Dunlop and Sofia Robinson - are already showing they have a high ceiling to their potential.
"They'll have to do well to qualify for provincials, but I think they can do it," said Saunders, now in his ninth year coaching the team.
The Nanaimo District Secondary School Islanders are the city's best hope at an Island title in the girls' competition, led by Myriam Basset, while Nanaimo Christian School's twins Marita and Eric DeShiffart should also be in contention for Island and provincial championships. Oak Bay and Carihi should also be in the mix today.
In the boys and girls team competition, the top five results are compiled for each school. The top four programs in both boys and girls advance to provincials. For schools that qualify for the BCSS championships, each will get to send seven runners, while all top 20 athletes get an automatic berth. JAldrich@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4243
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