STRATFORD Athletic Club’s junior cross country runners created a piece of club history at Perry Park in Birmingham on Sunday when they clinched a third placed finish in the West Midland Young Athletes’ Cross Country League.
The Stratford squad capped a glorious 2015/16 campaign by finishing fourth on the day in what was the fifth and final event in a gruelling series over the last four months.
This is the highest place the Stratford AC junior team has ever achieved in this competitive league of 20 athletics and running clubs in the West Midlands.
This amazing accomplishment was earned by the commitment and talent of the junior cross country squad – a total of 62 individuals represented the club over the season – together with the absolute dedication of head coach Paul Hawkins and his many assistants.
History was also made individually as Georgie Campbell became Stratford AC’s first ever female race winner in this event in the U13 girls’ race as she finished 3rd overall.
Northampton & Rugby finished first with 33,244 points, followed by Wolverhampton & Bilston with 31,468. Stratford AC amassed 29,185 points – their highest ever total by 2,108 points – 390 ahead of Royal Sutton Coldfield AC in fourth.
The conditions on the day at Perry Park were fresh and bright, with the ground relatively mud-free, meaning the course would favour the faster, rather than the stronger, runners.
The atmosphere was electric, particularly around the club tent, as many excited athletes chatted about their experience and achievements while supporting each other with loud cheers as team-mates finished along the uphill home straight.
As well as the overall team achievement, there was an overall 3rd place for the U11 boys’ team, as well as a couple of overall individual medal places to celebrate too.
The U17 women kicked off the day with Jessica Sheppard (17th, 18.40) running her usual well-paced race over the 4km. Jessica tired towards the end, losing a few places in the latter stages, and was just squeezed out in the final few metres as she missed out on what would have been her highest finishing position over the season.
Hannah Bexson (24th, 20.23) ran a solid race to equal her highest placed finish of the season, with Harriet Flynn (26th, 21.37) enjoying her last junior cross country league race.
The U17 women’s team lacks the depth of team that is enjoyed in other age groups. Jessica, Hannah and Harriet have been ever-present and their commitment through the season has made a tremendous difference to the team.
The team finished 5th on the day and move up to an overall 5th position, a well deserved reward.
Over 90 U11 boys waited on the line as the sun blinded their start as it emerged from the behind the wispy white clouds.
Alex Adams (2nd, 6.01) ran an amazingly mature and compelling race. At the start of the day Alex was in second place overall and knew he had to stay in front of two competitors to maintain this position.
Alex made a very controlled start, making sure he did not succumb to the trap the fast downhill start offered. Before the turn towards the steep uphill bank, he placed himself in third, one place behind one of his key rivals.
Around the reservoir Alex kicked on, putting full pressure on his opponents, and led as they turned towards the finishing straight. Although he was caught on the line by the overall season winner, second place on the day and second over the whole season was secured. This is a brilliant achievement, particularly as Alex is at the younger end of this age group.
Caleb Spriggs (13th, 6.33) and Alfie Organ (21st, 6.42) obviously both enjoy the faster terrain and they cruised to their finest performance and highest position of the season.
Adam Taylor (45th, 6.56) maintained his good form over the 1.6km, followed by William Groves (66th, 7.19) making a welcome return to the team with a good strong run.
A fine debut performance from Tristan Evans-Cook (79th, 7.44) and a solid race from Angus Tombs (95th, 8.59) completed an excellent team performance.
The U11 boys’ team finished 3rd on the day and maintained their 3rd place overall position.
The U17 men’s team held on to 5th overall despite slipping to 7th on the day. Oscar Barbour (10th, 17.48) started well and maintained his position throughout the tough 4.8km.
Fergus Allison (21st, 18.37), who prefers the more challenging courses, struggled to keep up with the speed of the front runners. A solid run, earning precious points, from Jonathon Furey (42nd, 21.58) completed the team, and all three appeared to enjoy their last junior cross country race in the league.
There was also a strong run, as a guest, from Kian Battison (43rd, 22.38).
The U11 girls’ race was a very fast and furious affair as 112 athletes made the most of the quick conditions, with some notable performances amongst the Stratford AC girls over the 1.6km large lap.
Molly Bullock (14th, 7.04) led the team home, enjoying the high tempo, followed by a lovely composed race from Millie Perkins (25th, 7.14). Maria Watkins (40th, 7.30), Maisie-Joy Spriggs (41st, 7.30) and Maddie Linfoot (43rd, 7.31) chased each other, spurring each other on to good finishes within a second of each other.
Sophie Ross (66th, 7.55) managed to pick up a number of places as she used her strength in the final uphill straight and an improving Sienna Evans-Cook (79th, 8.04) completed the U11 girls’ team that finished 6th on the day and remained in 7th place overall.
The eight U15 boys from Stratford AC have had a fierce inter-club rivalry all season as the majority are very well matched over the two large laps which equate to just under two miles.
Archie Musk (43rd, 13.14) used his speed to the greatest effect in the latter stages, keeping ahead of ever-improving Ben Jones (49th 13.32) and Owain Jones (53rd, 13.39), who continues to make progress towards recapturing his early season form.
Not far behind was Adam Pomeroy (55th, 13.43) who revelled in the fast conditions with his best performance by far this season, keeping just ahead of Rowan Love (58th, 13.49) and Dion Love (61st, 14.06) who both relatively struggled with the faster pace.
Adam Bayliss (66th, 14:49) was unfortunately not very well during the race, but bravely did his best to finish. Matthew Ross (67th 15.13) completed a solid team performance as the squad finished 7th on the day and 7th overall.
The U13 girls’ race was over 2.5km and included 114 girls. Georgie Campbell (1st, 10.10) knew her task for the day was a simple one – stay ahead of her main rival from Rugby & Northampton to secure 3rd place overall.
Not content with this, Georgie decided her best strategy was to simply blow the rest of the field away. Georgie held back from starting too fast, keeping herself in contention in the early stages and then simply powering around the reservoir, leaving the competition in her wake.
A strong finish completed a truly inspirational performance which writes her name into the club history books as Stratford AC’s first ever female individual race winner in the WMYACCL.
There have now been three individual race winners this season for Stratford AC, having never had an individual race winner prior to this year.
The second Stratford AC team member home was Hope Lawton (33rd, 11.14) who showed her class with a great performance, overtaking many competitors on the last large lap.
Ellen Taylor (40th, 11.23) worked hard and maintained a steady pace. Both Ellie Bryan (61st, 11.49) and Evie Lowe (68th, 12.04) ran well and another solid run from Charlotte Gravelsons (88th, 12.52) completed the team which finished 6th on the day and remained 5th overall.
Ten Stratford AC U13 boys enjoyed the 2.5km speedy race around Perry Park. Josh Angus (15th, 10.14) started fast and continued well to lead the team home in fine style.
Henry Tombs (32nd, 10.45) produced another consistent run, closely followed by Sean Mata (42nd, 11.11) who worked his socks off for the team. Ned Campbell (49th, 11.19) won the latest mini-battle with club rival Jack Hemming (59th, 11.33), who was perhaps a little off his usual pace.
A fantastic run by James Bexson (57th, 11.27) gave him his highest finish of the season, while Jimmy Middleton (60th, 11.34) appeared to really enjoy his season debut.
Cameron Black (67th, 11.48) produced another strong, consistent run ahead of another interesting club rivalry between Harry Gravelsons (75th, 12.28) and Fin Hutchinson (77th, 12.29).
Harry managed to tap into deep reserves as he made up a couple of places in the final few metres to regain the bragging rights between the two. Overall the team finished 7th on the day and held on to 5th overall.
The U15 girls’ team completed the day’s racing over 3.2km. Imogen Sheppard (30th, 14.02) led the team home, starting well but then struggling to maintain her usual form and was almost caught by Olivia Hall (33rd, 14.05), whose consistent running throughout the entire season is worthy of a special mention.
Daisy Musk (46th, 14.40) worked hard but was a little off her best, unlike team-mate Poppy Butler (63rd, 15.38) who saved her top form for the ultimate race of the season.
A solid run from Isla Jackson (74th, 18.05) completed the team, earning valuable points for the club. The team lacked its usual depth, finishing 10th on the day and consequently slipped a place to 8th overall.
The team from Stratford AC that often do not get enough recognition are the officials. John Turner and Andy Turner have done a fantastic job this season at all the events by keeping time, acting as marshals and operating the ‘finishing funnels’.
Without such people who selflessly give their time, the cross country league would simply not exist. A big thank you is sent to you on behalf of all the athletes.
Report compiled by Brian Gravelsons.