Women’s pre-season poll from the Classic Kiteley-McInnes CIS-XC poll at Montreal Endurance brought to you by New Balance

Hi! I’m Rachel Francois (800m runner and occasional cross-country dabbler). I’m excited to be part of adding to the predictions for the Montreal Endurance Project. I’m taking a one-year hiatus from the CIS life to focus on training, and due to my FOMO (fear of missing out…must stop saying this but it just works), thought it would be great to stay involved. Although my middle distance/sprinter side cringes at the thought of running another 6km with hills and mud and that horrific 110km hour wind from Newfoundland–that still haunts me to this day–sideline watching is the ideal way for me to join in on the fun until I come back for one more round next year.

With CIS XC being hosted in Guelph, I’m looking forward to seeing how big the crowd lining the course will be – that school lives and breathes cross country and with a predicted title, there is no reason that CIS, and everything that builds up to it, won’t live up to the hype. Fingers crossed for my Vic girls for coming up big, but across the country there are numerous distance studs ready to get a little gritty, muddy and put on a show in this upcoming season.

University of Guelph – 99pts

As with the historical trend, this powerhouse team is predicted to be on top. Expect to see a sea of red flooding the front packs at conference and CIS. Although their top dog Carise Thompson is out, they have enough depth to keep girls in the top spots. Katelyn Ayers, Katrine Allison, Heather Petrick, Madeline Yungblut…I could go on. Point is, there is plenty of talent to keep this star-studded lineup in the running to secure a consecutive championship title. Triathlete Joanna Brown will also be back on the roster to contribute. Lots of distance runner strength, as usual. Add in the home turf advantage in November…this team will be tough to shake.

University of Toronto – 92pts

If any team has the talent to upset Guelph, it’s the Toronto squad. We have Gollish returning, riding off some huge momentum from her dream season and known for consistently outstanding performances. She’ll be joined by Gabriela Stafford, which, lucky for her team, has decided to turn down offers of moving down to the states to continue as a Varsity Blue. Both Stafford and Gollish have that middle distance speed to scoop up much needed points (last 1km kick downs…) and cause a ruckus up front.  Tamara Jewett will also be on the roster if she can get healthy in time from her summer setbacks. I’m expecting a major showdown if these ladies are able to step up when it counts, which they have done before.

Trinity Western University – 79pts

A big hit to the group…Fiona Benson has taken flight and is living the post collegiate dream after her own fairy tale season (collecting a nice batch of Olympic standards on the way!).  Alison Jackson is also out with her shift to pro-cycling. With these significant losses, the TWU squad still is looking relatively strong with some big names sticking around to get the job done this year. They might be able to provide some added pressure on the fight for titles. Sarah Inglis will come through with her gutsy racing, when she breaks away from the pack recklessly… similar to “Declan White circa Newfoundland 2014”. Because of this I wouldn’t be surprised if she won the overall individual title. Regan Yee and Hannah Ryan will also be back in full force. New additions who are reportedly looking great are Lisa Brooking and Mirelle Martens, so keep an eye out!  Maybe this might be the year that Guelph gets taken down. West side pride.

Queen’s University – 68pts

Not too much is known about this year’s upcoming team, but I do know that Julie-Anne Staehli will be returning after being last year’s runner-up to Carise. Claire Sumner is also a big medal threat, look for her to come back this season on a mission. As for the rest of the group? Last year there was a big gap between the top 10 placers from Queens and the rest of the scorers, so it will be interesting to see if anyone is able to step it up this year and add in some depth.

University of Victoria – 59pts

My island girls!! Excuse my excitement and bias. Although the team is comprised of mostly mid-d runners…this caused a bit of suffering in the Newfoundland conditions, with some better conditions in Guelph…. Ok I’ll stop making excuses, I’ve heard what you all say about us… BUT with the return of CanWest rookie of the year Chloe Hegland , Shauna McInnis, and triathlete Alison Hooper, there is a chance for something magical to happen if everyone can step up on the big day. I’ll be the first to say that those speed workouts find a way into the last couple minutes of the race, no matter the distance.  *Rumour is, there’s another Francois on the scene as well*

Université Laval – 36pts

While the team lacks the depth needed for a guaranteed top team finish, they are returning some solid talents and might be able to pull out something to move on up. Marguerite Plante-Dubé will be back, but Frederique Latraverse has left for a scholarship offer in California. They should still have a couple girls expected to place top 20! Not too much is known about the newbies…time will tell after a couple early season races.

Dalhousie University – 32pts

A noteable return is Celia Peters, who’s doing her MBA to come do a eligibility victory lap after being off the scene for a while. Another newbie is Kate Callion, the 30 year old bringing her veteran competition experience from her cycling/XC skiing career to the team, which always helps to shake the nerves of the rookies. Reining AUS champion Ellen Chappell is also set to carry the team if she can get completely healthy. Overall, if the team works together they could give the other teams of a points shake. More information to come on the east coasters as the season kicks off.

Western University – 28pts

Amanda Truelove is out of the running.  This will hit the Mustangs hard as she was an almost guaranteed top ten finish. Melissa Caruso, Stephanie Macneill and Bridget Pyke have also moved on from the CIS life, giving the new rookies and newly crowned veterans a chance to lift their game and fill the gaps. Jess White and Ainsley Nantes could have some breakout races. No expected rookie standouts but you never know who will come out of the woodwork.

McGill University – 19pts

There are rumours of some new American additions, unsure of what they’re all about but they might play an important role in how the team does this year. We will need to see a few races from the team to see what kind of shape everyone is in. Returning this year and hoping to crack the top twenty at CIS is Jullien Flynn, as well as another one of their top girls Melanie Myrand. Both are coming off of a solid 10km performance from the beginning of August.

University of Alberta – 16pts

Not too much is known about the Pandas crew, but with Sean Baynton being able to build the distance team stronger and sronger each year… my guess is that consistent improvement may equal pressure on the teams that have beaten them in the past. As an Edmonton girl, they hold a special place in my heart…. I’m just waiting for the breakthrough! If Danielle Thiel will be returning, she will be able to get some needed team points battling it out in the front pack.

University of Ottawa – 12pts

This team is a bit of a dark horse with not much knowledge on this season’s roster, but with the return of last years CIS Rookie of the Year Katie Phillips and Ruth Borrowes, it gives some major opportunity for movement up the rankings! After all, with an award like ROTY, Phillips may be ready to move on to bigger and better things …such as giving the veterans a little ego check in at the finish line.