Barrie high school has some of the best cross-country runners in the county
Unity Christian High School's cross-country team is off to the Georgian Bay Secondary School Association (GBSSA) championship on Wednesday at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon. The team includes, from left, Aaron Long, Mitch de Lange (top), Aaron Veenstra and Isaiah Frielink. De Lange has had a strong season so far, including three first-place finishes in four Simcoe County events. Frielink has also had strong top-five results. MARK WANZEL PHOTO
Not many schools could boast that more than 4% of their student population could make it to OFSAA for cross-country.
But given the small size and high level of running talent at Unity Christian High School in Barrie, that has become a very real possibility.
The tiny private school boasts some of the best young runners in Simcoe County despite enrolling under 100 students.
“We have a high level of participation, for one thing,” said Unity Christian cross-country coach Jeff Weening. “We had 70 students last season and I think 32 (of them were) track and field athletes, so that’s nearly half of the school participating.
“Our best athletes are participating in those sports and it’s a matter of internal competition, I believe,” Weening added. “When you have the best athletes training together, they push each other to greater heights.”
That has been very true in the midget boys division, where both Mitch de Lange and Isaiah Freilink rank among the top three runners at their age group.
De Lange, in particular, has been outstanding, winning three of the first four races heading into the Georgian Bay Secondary School Association’s cross-country championship, being held on Wednesday at Duntroon Highlands.
“I did (cross-country) in elementary school for five years and I’m just pushing myself,” said de Lange, a Grade 9 student. “I just try to do my best and see what happens.”
De Lange went into the season’s opening race – his first-ever competition in high school – at Sunnidale Park with plenty of nerves.
But he used that energy to win the season’s first event.
“(I was) kind of relieved, I guess, because I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” de Lange said.
Freilink finished in third place, sandwiching Eastview’s Ethan Loucks on the podium and creating a good, competitive situation right off the bat.
“They work hard, they train hard, and I guess they feed off of each other and push each other,” Weening said.
De Lange, who is friends with Freilink, feels that they can really help one another to improve.
“We push each other a bit,” de Lange said. “We can do it by talking and (encouraging) each other during training.”
De Lange’s three victories this season doesn’t include the Sacred Heart meet in Toronto, in which he won a competition with more than 500 runners taking part.
“It was awesome,” said de Lange, who keeps in shape during the summer months playing rep soccer in Barrie.
But just because they’re placing in big races doesn’t mean they’ll ever tune out their teachers.
“They’re immensely coachable,” Weening said. “Being pretty elite athletes, one of the things they did need to learn was nutrition and taking care of their bodies.
“More even than the running, that’s what we needed to work on with them, and they’ve been very receptive to that.”
Another athlete at Unity Christian, Aaron Veenstra, finished fifth among junior boys in the last event at Wasaga Beach, giving a distinct possibility that nearly half of the school’s eight-person cross-country team could make OFSAA.
“It’s very exciting,” Weening said. “I think that I could coach for another 25 years and not see this, so I’m certainly not taking for granted how special this group of runners we have is right now.
“I’m certainly quite excited about (the GBSSA finals).”