Canadian-born runners pace Minnesota’s success

Brian Stensaas

Minnesota cross country runners Andrew McKessock and Will McComb share a lot in common.

They both stand 6-feet tall and their weights are within five pounds of each other. They both hail from Ontario and absorb the brunt of Canadian jokes from teammates.

“The guys from Wisconsin get called ‘Cheeseheads’, we get called ‘dumb Canucks’ and asked if we live in igloos,” McKessock said. “It’s all in fun. I’ve been a pretty vocal guy ever since I was a freshman so there are jokes here and there.”

All kidding aside, the two are also focused and determined when out on the course doing one more thing they share in common: Setting the pace in a meet.

McKessock and McComb have teamed up for the past two seasons to help guide the Gophers to consecutive NCAA appearances – running the total to four straight for Minnesota.

They live together, train together and each want what is best for the team.

“I’m ready to give it my all and I know he is too,” McComb said.

The pair met while running for the tiny Saugeen Track and Field Club about two hours north of Toronto. There, the two competed for coach Geordie Farrell against rival teams from Toronto, Montreal and British Columbia.

And won.

Though the Saugeen club only had about 20 distance runners in its training group, it won three national cross country titles in a row. As with any club team, once its members faced high school graduation it was time for college decisions to be made.

McKessock, one year older than his training partner McComb, was recruited by Minnesota, Michigan and Arkansas. He said he laid out three pieces of paper and wrote the positives and negatives for each program. In the end, it came down to coaching.

“Here, I knew I would not only have a coach but a role model,” McKessock said of Gophers coach Steve Plasencia. “A lot of coaches will do anything at any risk. Like, as long as the first three years are good, who cares about being burned out for the fourth. Plasencia always tells us to just take it one step at a time.”

Once McKessock reported back home about his enjoyable experiences at Minnesota, McComb – recruited by the Gophers – knew he too would be heading to Minneapolis.

The bond McKessock and McComb have developed is as solid as oak. The two use hand signals during meets to alert the other of race developments. They can tell if the other is having a bad day by breath repetitions and the length of the others’ strides.

“After training with someone for five or six years, you notice certain things,” McKessock said. “Plus, training is the closest thing I have to home. Neither of us really have family that come down.”

While both runners were looked at by Canadian and American colleges, it was never really a question of which one either of them would pick.

Canadian colleges only offer full-ride scholarships for academics. A mere handful of schools offer partial athletic scholarships.

Plasencia hopes his good relations with McComb and McKessock lure more Canadians to his program.

“There are some young kids making the marks of Andrew and Will,” he said. “If this relationship keeps up, we’re hoping more will be interested in coming.”

This year is McKessock’s last at Minnesota, thus the last season the two will run together. The beginning of the end is Saturday at the annual Roy Griak Invitational, held at the University golf course.

The men’s team has performed less than admirably in years of late and are hoping to turn things around this weekend.

“It’s a crazy meet, it’s huge,” McComb said. “The whole team looks good. I think we’re really ready to go and compete right up there with the other top teams.”

And that’s no joke.

 

Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]