STRATFORD Athletic Club’s juniors secured their greatest result in the West Midland Young Athletes’ Cross Country League as they impressed in the opener at Warley Woods on Sunday, writes David Parkin.
Despite being midway through November, remarkably this was the first cross country race of the season for many of the club’s youngsters due to numerous weather-related cancellations.
The first race of the season is always compelling, as some of the younger runners are competing for the first time and many of the more experienced are moving up into new age groups and longer distances. It also allows coaches and runners to get a sense of how the league is going to play out for the rest of the season as old rivalries are renewed.
For Stratford, Georgie Campbell and Alex Adams once again excelled, both dominating their races. Just as pleasing for coaches, parents and athletes was the large number of top ten finishes for Stratford, with many of the club’s 65 runners achieving best ever placings and positioning Stratford in second place overall out of 21 clubs – their highest ever finish.
The U17 women are the first to race and have the benefit of a fresh course before it has been churned up by hundreds of pairs of feet over the afternoon. Campbell (1st, 16:44) was fast off the start, in the lead at the first bend and never looked back.
A five-second lead soon became 15 as she gave a masterclass in cross-country running. Younger athletes take note – dedication to training pays off.
Ellen Taylor (16th, 18:54) and Gigi Thomas (21st, 19:11), both running their first races at this distance, battled hard throughout the race, with Taylor pulling away in the final lap. Charlotte Gravelsons (44th, 23:25) completed the Stratford contingent, which finished third overall.
The U11 boys were led home by Maxime Verstraeten (4th, 6:57), who reflected on his significant improvements at parkrun and on the track with an excellent placing, up from 32nd last season.
Maxime was followed home by Joshua Davies (18th, 7:32) who also improved significantly over the previous year. Aran Cooper (26th, 7:42) and Joel Edgard (28th 7:43) ran well together, as did Samuel Plumb (39th 7:59) and Harry Francioni (40th, 8:02).
The team finished in third place overall, with the other Stratford athletes being Arthur Mansbridge (44th, 8:08), Alfie Musk (47th, 8:11), Ewan Sparrow (62nd, 8:29), Josh Harrison (71st, 8:37) and Henry Sims (84th, 9:01).
The club had an unusually large turnout in the U17 men’s race, with many of last year’s U15s competing for the first time at this 4.8km distance. James Mucklow (14th 18:52) announced his arrival in this age group with a strong run, picking up on his U15 form from last season.
Tom (24th, 19:32) and Will Crowfoot (27th, 19:39) ran well together to complete the scoring positions, both up eight places from last year. Joel Watson (32nd, 20:01) charged spectacularly down the hills and Ned Campbell (38th, 20:25), Josh Dobedoe (39th, 20:29), Thomas Mayes (46th, 21:28) and Harry Gravelsons (49th, 24:04) all competed well.
Fin Hutchinson (49th, 21:54) ran his first race in a couple of years after a long battle with injury.
Taking her coach’s instructions to heart, Tessa Parkin (2nd, 7:32) led for much of the U13 girls’ race with a powerful, committed start and strong running up the first couple of hills. Unable to hold on in the middle section, she was overtaken by Tiffany Latham, the winner from Sutton Coldfield, but continued to challenge right to the line in a close finish.
Annie Silvers (6th, 7:53) achieved her best ever finish to win the battle for sixth place on the finish line. Marijke Tear-Verweij (18th 8:21) is another athlete who gallops down the hills, passing athletes left and right and will be delighted with her improvement from 54th last year.
Lois Ford (26th 8:33) ran well in her first race and Martha Bullock (47th, 9:05) and Lily-Mai Pagan (91st, 10:54) completed the team, giving them second place.
Alex Adams (1st 12:03) marked his debut in the U15 boys’ event with a comprehensive victory, his 15th in succession in the league. Leading from start to finish, he even found time at one point to give one of his long-term rivals some encouragement.
Taylor Stubbins (23rd, 13:23), Theo Skirvin (25th, 13:27) and Adam Taylor (28th, 13:34) worked hard together for a set of good results, as did Tom Francioni (37th 13:54) and Caleb Spriggs (38th 13:57). Joe Warner (55th 14:58) and Ed Holdcroft (56th, 15:00) completed the Stratford contingent who finished in third place.
The first four finishers in the U13 girls’ race were all from Wolverhampton & Bilston, continuing their dominance in this age group. First finisher for Stratford was Niamh Hillard (7th, 10:50), who had had an excellent race the previous day at the inter-counties and who continues to go from strength to strength in distance running.
Maddie Linfoot (15th 11:11) started strongly and was in fourth place on the first lap before slipping back in the second half of a tough race. Abbi Cooper (18th, 11:18) looked in fine form and will be very pleased by her performance and Maisie-Joy Spriggs (29th 11:46) had an excellent, battling outing to move up significantly in the second half of the race.
The strong squad also included Caitlin Boyle (39th, 11:59), Martha Peters (46th, 12:12), Emma Francioni (52nd, 12:27), Lucy Thomas (59th 12:39), Tilly Campbell (62nd 12:43), Ella Peeke (77th, 13:23), Olivia Hawkyard (79th 13:28), Ruby Edwards (87th 14:10) and Katie Pridham (88th, 14:12) as the team finished fourth overall.
William Mayes (28th 10:48), making his club debut and fresh from some excellent parkrun performances, made his way through the field in the U13 boys’ race to finish first for Stratford.
Close behind were Flynn Dathan (36th 10:56) and James Day (37th 10:57), both running at this distance for the first time, followed by Henry Wheeler (43rd 11:02), Ben Herbert (54th 11:21) and Hugh Markham (73rd, 11:58). The team finished in sixth place.
One of the most notable performances of the day was Charlotte Marshall (5th, 13:56) in the U15 girls’ event, up from 48th last year and just a day after an excellent inter-counties result.
Battling all the way with Marshall was Olivia Robinson (6th, 14:03) who was in her first race in this age group and looked in excellent form. Holly Newton (51st, 16:39), Molly Bullock (61st 17:19), Martha Hodgson (71st, 18:16) and Georgia Pridham (79th, 19:35) completed the team which finished seventh.
The next fixture is at Perry Park, Birmingham, on December 8, when the club will be excited at the prospect of continuing the strong start to the season.