The McMaster cross country team had an exceptional run during the fall and they’ve shown no signs of slowing down during their track season. At the Eastern Michigan Can-Am meet on Jan. 25, the top six athletes were McMaster Marauders.
Yes. You read that right. At the top of the podium was none other than Alex Drover. Drover finished the three-kilometre race within eight minutes, 14 seconds and 60 milliseconds, four whole seconds ahead of second-place finisher Sergio Raez-Villanueva. Drover achieved the second-fastest time this season of any runner for a three-kilometre race, and his performance earned him the title of the male Pink’s athlete of the week.
In preparing for a race, not only does Drover have to focus on the physical aspects of competing such as training and eating well, but he also has to prepare mentally.
“Preparing for a race long term is about consistent training. Doing everything you can, sleeping, hydrating, eating properly. [. . .] Just getting your mind in the right place, going into a race with a lot of confidence is important and knowing you can race with a lot of the top guys who are there has been one of the biggest changes to my mental preparation,” Drover said.
Diet and what you eat can be huge makes a big difference in sports, as it influences not only for health, and performance and endurance but it can also help increase your longevity. Drover has some particularly interesting insight on his diet and why it helps him. While Drover pays attention to his eating habits, he does not restrict himself too heavily.
“More than specific eating habits it’s more than just eating a generally healthy diet throughout and not deviating too much from it. Not to say I won’t have a dessert, I think it’s worse for you than anything to restrict your diet too much to the point where you’re obsessing over it. A specific thing I eat before races, beets are a good one, the nitrates help open up the blood vessels supposedly. So yea, there’s your fun fact,” Drover laughs.
Whatever Drover’s doing has clearly been working for him, as he has consistently been one of the team’s top performers. Drover finished fifth at the U Sports cross country national championship earlier in the year, which put a huge test on his mental game.
“At the U sports championships in cross country this past year, I fell twice during the race. Once on the first two and a half kilometre lap and once on the last lap. The first lap I fell we were probably 800 meters in the race and at that point, there’s still a bunch of people around so falling can put you twenty or thirty spots back,” said Drover.
The ability to stand back up and continue to push through adversity has long been a defining characteristic of top athletes. Drover’s ability to pick himself back up during that race, and then finish within the top five, is part of why he’s one of Mac’s absolute best runners.
Although he placed first at the Can-Am meet, Drover is setting his sights even further. The David Hemery Valentine Invite, taking place in Boston on Feb. 8 and 9, is renowned for its extremely high level of competition. Drover noted that all of the Marauders on the track team have been preparing for a long time and are looking to set some personal bests at the meet.
The cross country/track team has been outstanding this year, and there is no indication that they’re slowing down. Nabbing the top six spots at their most recent meet is the type of dominance that is almost out of a fairytale. They’ll be facing their top competition yet at the David Hemery Valentine Invite in early February, but it wouldn’t be a long shot to expect to see at least one of our Marauders repping on the podium.
The cornerstone of most championship teams is strong depth and players that can be subbed in who will deliver a great performance. This is especially true for the men’s cross country team, led by veteran runner Sergio Raez-Villanueva. With a bevvy of talented players on the roster, the team’s potential is sky high.
At their first meet of the year in Buffalo, the Marauders sat most of their veteran players to give them rest in preparation for a meet which took place this past weekend on the 21. This allowed many of the younger runners a chance to shine, which they most certainly did.
“Veterans and rookies alike, we always say at the end of the day once you’re on the start line it’s all up to you. Sometimes the veteran doesn’t have a good day but the rookie steps up and really helps. We’ve seen that happen before, never count the rookies out or anyone for that matter. It really comes down to how people are feeling and we help each other as a team and that’s why we’re a team in cross country,” said Raez-Villanueva, star of the cross country team.
Placing second overall at the meet, standout players like the aforementioned Raez-Villanueva, Sam Nusselder and Taylor Cornwall posted the top three finishes for McMaster at the Buffalo meet. All together their depth helped them place second overall and only one point behind the hosts, the University of Buffalo Bulls.
“Sometimes people aren’t having a good day and sometimes where it matters you can’t do it for some reason or another, maybe you’re a little sick but then there’s someone else who can take that charge and what’s nice about this team is that we have that depth that when someone is not feeling that well there’s someone who can take charge and help us get back to the place that we need to be in,” Raez-Villanueva added.
Their depth has gained recognition at the national level as they are ranked first in the country, after previously being ranked third at the start of the season. Even though this is very high praise, it is not something the team chooses to focus on.
“You never want to get too confident with rankings and such we don’t want to get into our heads. Within ourselves we always talk, the rank is just there for show sometimes. Sometimes it’ll tell you you’re doing worse some days better but in the end, we’re always training hard, we’re always putting in our best effort it doesn’t matter what they’re saying out there or what people are predicting,” Raez-Villanueva added.
The marauders look to build off a highly successful season last year where they graced the U sports championship podium for the first time in six years. They also got gold for the first time since 1964 at the Ontario University athletics championships last year. All together the cross country team is looking to repeat and have another historic season this year.