Inside the University of Manitoba Bisons track and field/cross country program
with coaches Claude Berube and Gee-ef Nkwonta
Based in Winnipeg, Canada, the University of Manitoba is a mid-to-large sized university that boasts a full men’s and women’s track and field program as well as cross country teams. Coaches Claude Berube and former Manitoba athlete Gee-ef Nkwonta lead the team as they spearhead their way into the track and field season. Having just come off a strong cross country season, Coach Berube looks to carry the momentum into the indoor season.
“We brought a team of five to the conference (Canada West) and U Sports Championships for the first time since 2019 on the men's side. On the women’s side we brought three. We’re not quite there for a full women’s team yet,” says Coach Berube. “From what I saw, we are headed in the right direction. We had the female rookie of the year in cross country. She was also on the Canada West all-rookie team. We had a male Canada West all-rookie member and we had a Canada West second team all-star. So cross country was definitely strong this year.”
Both coaches have been cultivating a team backed by the defining aspect of family and getting to know the person they’re coaching as much as the athlete.
“As much as I think winning championships and winning titles is important, that’s why we are in the game, we always preach that this is a family thing, too. You become part of the Bison family… We’re trying to do our best in competing, but we’re also trying to create great people and great citizens that’ll help out society,” says Berube.
“A saying that I use a lot with the athletes I work with is, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’ and having that mindset as we’re moving along has been super beneficial,” added Coach Nkwonta. “They want to be together and train. I think that just comes down to the culture we built where everyone enjoys being there and everyone enjoys training together.”
This consistent training and strong team culture will prove invaluable as Manitoba regularly faces off against the best competition on offer in Canada, as well as making the occasional trip to race in the United States.
“We have our opener to the season in Saskatoon and most of the schools in our conference are at that meet. We always like to be competitive there but that’s a meet to introduce a lot of our athletes, especially the rookies, to competition against people that aren’t from our immediate area,” says Nkwonta. “We use that meet as a gauge to kind of see, ‘Okay what are some areas we want to continue to build on?’ A month later we have our home meet, the Bison Classic… that’s one where we really try to focus on making sure we’re ready to compete…we’ve done it the past couple of years and we’re trying to make sure that we continue to just be where our feet are, not get too ahead of ourselves and think of what we want to do at the end of the season.”
The team has proven to stack up to the competition in recent history and Coach Berube intends to keep the streak going. “Our men’s team has won the Canada West Championships the past two years and so the goal is to three-peat. We were top three in the country last year, half a point behind Toronto, so certainly we want to stay within that top three and go after Toronto and Guelph,” says Berube. “Our women’s team has also grown. We probably lost more key athletes from last year's team on the women's side than on the men's side so we are retooling some of our relays. Our women’s team was top seven in the country at the end of last year, so we are looking to maybe even shoot for a top five or top three at the Canada West Championships.”
While the coaches set the bar high for the team, the importance of coaching the person as well as the athlete continues to shine through. As a former athlete for Manitoba, as well as still being a competing jumps athlete today, Coach Nkwonta provides a coaching style that is personable and comes from a place of shared experience. “I think I can speak to some of the things that some of the athletes are not really sure of. Things like how to manage your time with travel and things you can expect when you go to meets,” he says. “I’m able to still use current experiences of moments like understanding what it’s like to have a day where nothing’s going right. Or a day when everything hurts and you’re just there pulling it together. I’m able to have a lot of authentic conversations with them.”
Warm-ups are another important area for coach Nkwonta. They serve as a way of getting to know the person behind the athlete, as well as assessing how to adjust the day's workload. “I always enjoy catching up with athletes during the warm-up. During the warm-up, I'm looking at how they're moving. I'm seeing, ‘What are we going to be able to get done today? Are we going to be able to do what's written on the paper or do I need to adjust?’ But, a lot of the catching up is just regular conversations of how's your day going, how are exams going and just learning about them as people,” says Nkwonta. “I feel I start to learn a lot more about how they're responding to stressors and just how they react as people when I just treat them as people instead of every question being related to the workout.”
Manitoba will have their eyes set on the conference and national championships on February 23rd and March 7th. You can follow the Bisons’ schedule and their results here and keep up-to-date with U SPORTS track and field rankings here (Manitoba is currently ranked third on the men’s side).
University of Manitoba track and field/cross country recruiting standards
With strength in all event groups, Manitoba is a national contender. The team and university have the ability to offer both academic and athletic scholarships. If you hold an average academic percentage of 85 percent or higher, you may qualify for academic money. On the athletic side, scholarships are fluid and depend on the current needs of the men’s and women’s track and field/cross country teams at the University of Manitoba.
To find out if you could qualify for a scholarship at Manitoba and uncover other schools where you’d be a fit, book your personalized recruitment advisory session with Streamline Athletes today.
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