STRATFORD Athletic Club’s junior cross country team started the West Midland Young Athletes’ Cross Country League 2017/18 season in good form at Hatton on Sunday.
The squad are looking to improve on last season when they secured their second successive third placed finish in this extremely competitive league.
They made an excellent start, finishing third on the day, closing the gap to the top two clubs compared to this stage last season. They are only 233 points behind Wolverhampton & Bilston and 779 behind Rugby & Northampton.
As the team continues to mature, a target of a second placed finish in the next two seasons is a realistic one. The side was made up of more than 60 athletes, covering all scoring places in each age category, so no points were lost before the races even began – the first time this has ever happened at the start of the season in Stratford AC’s history.
A sunny day, with temperature close to 20 degrees, belied the start of the cross country season. The unusual conditions though did not phase the U17 women’s team, which finished a creditable fifth.
The team was led home by Emily Field (7th, 14.39) with a stunning debut for the club over the 4km, with strong running from Imogen Sheppard (12th, 15.05), Abi Wootton (27th, 15.43), Daisy Musk (31st , 16.05), Olivia Hall (36th, 16.27) and Edie Hutchinson (55th, 18.27) completing a wonderful team performance.
The U11 boys race over 1.6km and it is always a ferocious affair. Five athletes made their debut and Tom Rowley (16th, 4.47) led the team home in majestic style. Henry Wheeler (58th, 5.12), Seb Hillard (65th, 5.18), Ollie Hemming (96th, 5.35) and Harry Francioni (98th, 5.35) each showed great potential and laid down good benchmarks to improve on over the season.
The rest of the team seemed to hunt in a pack as Flynn Dathan (51st, 5.10), James Day (55th, 5.12), Hugh Markham (56th, 5.12) and Alex McMillan (57th, 5.12) all finished within two seconds of each other. The U11 boys’ team finished in seventh place.
The U17 men’s race is over 4.8km and, as with all age groups in this league, is of very high quality with the winner, Chris McLeod of Solihull & Small Heath, winning in a time of 15.17.
All four members of the Stratford U17 team have just stepped up to this age group and each equipped themselves well. Owain Jones (15th, 16.39) led the team home, working hard between his sprint start and finish, followed by a great inter-club battle between Rhys Mahon (51st, 19.11), Archie Musk (54th, 19.44) and Adam Bayliss (57th, 20.00). The U17 men’s team finished ninth.
Four U11 girls made their debut for the club. Tessa Parkin (53rd, 5.38), Emma Francioni (56th, 5.40) Harriet Black (70th, 5.52) and Tilly Campbell (84th, 6.03) all seemed to enjoy themselves, from the noisy hand clapping in the warm-up led by assistant coach Wayne Vickers, to the rapid racing over the 1.6km.
Maddie Linfoot (8th, 5.00) started fast and led on the downhill stretch in the early stages, doing well to hold on for her first top ten finish in the league. Maisie-Joy Spriggs (11th, 5.03), Niamh Hillard (26th, 5.18), Scarlett Richardson (29th, 5.22), Venus Aun (49th 5.37), Katie Pridham (96th, 6.08) and Ella Peeke (102nd, 6.12) all ran strongly to improve on their previous best league performances to complete the U11 girls’ team which finished third.
Josh Angus (47th, 11.56) led the U15 boys’ team home over 3.2km, closely followed by a strong finish from Cameron Collins (48th, 11.58). Debutant Cameron Thomas (58th, 12.26) was almost caught by a fast-finishing Cameron Black (59th, 11.28), while Isaac Searle (63rd, 12.33), in his first race for Stratford AC, Ned Campbell (66th, 12.39), Fin Hutchinson (74th, 13.11), Joel Watson (77th, 13.19) and Harry Gravelsons (80th, 13.23) all worked their socks off to secure eighth place for the team.
The U13 girls’ team contained two debutants in Olivia Robinson (45th, 10.51) and Georgia Pridham (108th, 13.32) who both enjoyed the 2.5km challenge, with Georgia getting the prize for the biggest smile of the day.
Ellie Deaner (8th, 9.52) led the team home in fine style, securing her first top ten finish in this age category, while Leah Bowen (16th, 10.04) and Tulah Searle (22nd, 10.14) both clearly demonstrated their potential in this older age group. Molly Bullock (51st, 11.00) and Holly Newton (62nd, 11.09) both produced solid performances which helped the team finish fourth.
The U13 boys’ race was a thrilling contest as two athletes – Tom Francioni (56th, 10.00) and Sam Bloomfield (95th, 12.22) – represented Stratford AC for the first time.
Alex Adams (1st, 8.27), having won the U11 boys’ league last season, stepped up to the older age group and produced a race of exceptional maturity. Alex started steadily in fifth in the early stages and then gradually worked his way past those ahead of him to secure his sixth straight league race victory.
Adam Taylor (24th, 9.21), Caleb Spriggs (40th, 9.44), Christopher Hunt (46th, 9.49), Oscar Fines-Allin (58th, 10.04), Theo Skirvin (71st, 10.25), Alfie Organ (82nd, 10.55), Matthew Bexson (86th, 11.04) and Vernon Aun (92nd, 11.33) all put in good performances to help secure fifth spot for the team.
In the last race of the day the U15 girls took on the 3.2km that unusually, due to the benign conditions, was not deteriorating. Georgie Campbell (2nd, 11.14) battled hard, but could not catch Ella Semple from Wolverhampton & Bilston. Georgie won the U15 girls’ overall league title last season, just ahead of Ella, and so it looks like Georgie has another close battle this season as she defends her title.
Ellen Taylor (11th, 11.49) was rewarded for her impressive recent training with her highest league placing to date and Kate Dufty (17th, 11.57) and Ellie Bryan (28th, 12.28) continued to impress.
Solid races from Hope Lawton (50th, 13.42), despite managing a cold, and Freya Fines-Allin (66th, 14.25) completed a great overall team effort as the U15 girls’ team finished second.
The next fixture is at Warley Woods in November, when another complete team should see Stratford keep up the pressure on the teams above them.
Report courtesy of Brian Gravelsons.