Vernon runners Liam McGrath (left) and Samantha Loewen have had their university running careers ended after their school, Kamloops-based Thompson Rivers University, decided to eliminate the program from its athletics department. (TRU - Andrew Snucins photos)

Vernon runners saddened by school decision to cut cross-country

Thompson Rivers University eliminates cross-country running, affecting pair of Vernon runners

COVID-19 cut short their university running seasons.

The university cut short their careers.

Vernon runners Liam McGrath and Samantha Loewen were part of the Kamloops-based Thompson Rivers University WolfPack’s cross-country running team. The pair found out St. Patrick’s Day the school was eliminating cross-country running from its athletics program.

This past season, the WolfPack roster consisted of six women and five men.

“This was a difficult decision to make, but we felt it was in the best interest of the athletics department at this time, as the level of investment needed to move this program forward would come at the expense of other areas of athletic program delivery and that’s not something we are able to do,” said Curtis Atkinson, director of athletics and recreation at Thompson Rivers University.

“I am very appreciative of the commitment and dedication shown by our cross-country student-athletes and I wish them all the very best as they move on from our program.”

McGrath is a fourth-year Bachelor of Arts psychology student. He and Loewen found out about the team’s demise via email, as it was told not to all gather at the same time over COVID-19 fears.

READ MORE: Vernon runner races to PB at indoor meet

“It was a shock for the entire team because in the span of one week we lost our entire outdoor track and road racing season due to the COVID-19 virus cancelling all our meets to losing the entire program altogether,” said McGrath, who is going into his last semester and wouldn’t be eligible to compete if he transferred to another university.

Loewen, finishing her second year in the Bachelor of Arts geography and environmental science program, was saddened by the news.

“Over the past few years, the program has seen a lot of development and growth,” Loewen said. “A transition period was expected due to a change in coaching for the 2020-21 season, but I was not prepared for the complete closure of the program. It is an unfortunate loss to the running community in Kamloops.”

Loewen said she is not looking to transfer as there is “an established community in Kamloops and I am a little too far into my degree to be uprooting and finishing up somewhere new.”

Both runners said they were drawn to TRU because of coach Carmin Mazzotta, who had previously announced he would be stepping down after the 2019-20 season.

“The main attraction to TRU for me was the cross-country program. My final cross-country season at high-school was cut short because of injury and Carmin Mazzotta was the only coach to give me a chance to run on a U-SPORT team,” McGrath said.

READ MORE: Loewen ready to run with WolfPack

Said Loewen: “I was connected with Carmin Mazzotta in the fall of 2016 by my high school running coach, John Machuga, and met him for the first time at B.C. High School provincials. He and the team captain at the time, Conlan Sprickerhoff, were very welcoming and encouraging. Their attitudes attracted me to the team and enabled me to have an amazing experience despite going into the program recovering from an injury.”

Mazzotta, a former NCAA Div. 1 athlete, joined TRU as an assistant under previous head coach Jack Miller during the 2014-15 season and took over as head coach the following year.

“It’s been a privilege to coach such a resilient and positive group of student-athletes over the past five-plus years,” Mazzotta said. “In an ideal world, I would be handing the reigns over to a qualified and talented incoming coach. We tried diligently to find a way to make that happen.”

—-with files from Larry Read, TRU Sports Information Director

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