STRATFORD Athletic Club’s junior cross country athletes have been on an incredible journey over recent years and this continued at the West Midland Young Athletes’ Cross Country League’s first race at Abington Park in Northampton on Sunday, writes Brian Gravelsons.
Under head coach Paul Hawkins’ leadership, the cross country team has developed year on year and finished in their highest ever place of fifth last season in the competitive West Midland Young Athletes’ League.
With experienced athletes continuing to improve and younger athletes excited to start competing for the first time, the journey is set to continue with aspirations of finishing in an even higher place this season.
The first of five races in the 2015/16 season took place at Abington Park in dry and cool conditions, with the sun tucked away behind marbled cloud.
The Stratford AC junior team made a good start, gaining a total of 5,595 points, 233 points more than at the same point last season, putting them in third place out of 20 teams.
The day started with the U17 women’s team racing over 4km on a reasonably firm but undulating course. Jessica Sheppard (18th, 19.21) looked comfortable, enjoying the long uphill stretches, and Hannah Bexson (25th, 20.18) secured valuable points for the team who currently stand eighth overall after the first race.
Kendrick claims historic win
The U11 boys followed with their thrilling and competitive race over 1.6km. Louis Kendrick (1st, 6.27), having finished joint second overall last year, is looking to go one better this season and made the perfect start by putting in a faultless performance.
After the usual ferocious start, Louis held his nerve in third place at the first corner, moving into second as he exited the woods, and showed great maturity by waiting until the long downhill stretch before making his telling move to be the club’s first ever individual race winner.
Alex Adams (6th, 6.51) continued his recent superb form with an exhilarating run and not far behind was Caleb Spriggs (31st, 7.30), who seemed to enjoy every second of his race.
Adam Taylor (47th, 7.52) is making good progress with his running, while Oliver Wild (71st, 8.19) and Angus Tombs (79th, 8.35), with their piston arms, both finished like trains to pick up a number of places in the home straight.
This season looks exciting for the U11 team, currently standing in third place with a good prospect of improving further as the season progresses.
The U17 men’s team is strong and five athletes competed to earn valuable team points to finish fifth overall. Oscar Barbour (11th, 18.21) continued his recent fine form with a measured run over the 4.8km and a competent finish in the home straight saw Fergus Allison (21st 19.20) fend off a determined challenge from Seb Hopper (22nd 19.20), with Murray Jackson (40th, 20.56) and Jon Furey (51st, 22.08) both putting in solid performances.
The U11 girls’ team stand in seventh place after a number of impressive debutant performances. Maisey-Joy Spriggs (24th, 8.00) smiled all the way around the 1.6km course, putting in a fine first race, and Molly Bullock (32nd, 8.12) equally enjoyed her first cross country performance for the club. Both athletes now have something to build on through the season.
Sophie Ross (49th, 8.36) should be pleased with the progress she has made since last season and Annabela Williams (72nd, 9.03) put in a gritty debut performance, coping well when she fell over rounding one of the many bends on the course.
Six U15 boys turned out for the club in a field of 89 and raced over just under two miles. Dion Love (57th 13.55) led the team home with a strong run, his first cross country run in this age group, closely followed by Archie Musk (60th, 14.04), Adam Bayliss (61st, 14.06) and Rowan Love (66th, 14.24) who all put in good performances and should be pleased with this marker to improve on throughout the season.
Debut to savour
An impressive debut performance came from Ben Jones (73rd, 14.49) and Matthew Ross (84th, 15.48) put in a really tenacious effort. The seventh placed finish gives the team something to build on over the remaining fixtures.
The U13 girls’ race had the largest field of 132 athletes, meaning space was at a premium during the start of the race, but this did not distract Georgie Campbell (21st, 10.52) who set off quickly and maintained a strong run throughout.
Ellen Taylor (36th, 11.14) has just moved up an age category and looked completely at home over the longer distance of 2.5km. Ellie Bryan (40th, 11.23) ran confidently around the course followed by Hope Lawton (57th, 11.53), who seemed to thoroughly enjoy her first cross country league performance for the club.
Faye Gourlay (62nd, 11.57) and Evie Lowe (68th, 12.03) should both be pleased with their first performance in this age group, demonstrating their potential for further improvement as the season progresses, while Charlotte Gravelsons (92nd , 12.41) is expected to improve on her performance as she turns her attention back to longer distance running from the summer track season.
A solid run is always expected from Suzie Mishima (103rd, 12.51), who was closely followed by Isobel Hopper (108th, 12.58) who ran with effervescence on her debut.
Emily Wild (119th, 13.48) completed a good team performance as they placed sixth overall, with plenty of scope for improvement over the winter.
The U13 boys’ team are looking to progress on their third place of last season and have made a steady start, finishing fifth overall, only 13 points behind Tamworth in third.
Josh Angus (7th, 9.51) put in a mature performance as he worked his way steadily up the field after a good start. Eye-catching and impressive performances came from both Jack Hemming (19th, 10.22) and Henry Tombs (21st, 10.24), with a fantastic run from Sean Mata (28th, 10.32) not far behind.
The climb just after the lake was a good test for Ned Campbell (46th 11.00) who revelled in the challenge it posed. James Bexson (83rd, 12.04) finished strongly to keep in front of Harry Gravelsons (84th, 12.10), who has improved his stamina significantly recently, whilst Fin Hutchinson (92nd, 13.35) thoroughly enjoyed his debut performance.
The last race of the day saw the U15 girls’ team finish fifth overall with some good individual performances. First home for the team was Imogen Sheppard (16th, 14.12) who tackled the 3.2km course with confidence and a certain aplomb, while Abi Wootton (20th, 14.22) showed her strength and zeal in a great performance.
Daisy Musk (30th, 14.42) just pipped Olivia Hall (31st, 14.42) on the line as both demonstrated superb running as they stepped up an age group.
Edie Hutchinson (58th, 15.54) should be very satisfied with her run, particularly after grabbing a valuable point in the final few metres.
There was a good, solid performance and finish by Anna Gionis (70th, 16.23), whilst Isla Jackson (90th 18.21) finished strongly ahead of a gritty run by Poppy Butler (93rd, 18.37).
The second fixture is at Wolverhampton in November when the Stratford team will look to build on this good start and continue the journey to further league success.