STRATFORD Athletic Club finished their Midland Track & Field League season in style by winning their final match to maintain a 100 per cent record – clinching the Division Four championship and gaining their second successive promotion.
There were 20 personal bests achieved by the 31-strong team at Solihull which shows the level of commitment from the Stratford squad.
Stratford, who topped the seven-team league on the day with 425 points to finish with 28 points overall – six above runners-up and also promoted Sutton Coldfield – were highly impressive.
The Stratford team had been strengthened by several athletes making their league debuts and the return of others from absences. Notable among these was the return of Lewis Byng from international duty to win the javelin in a club record of 55.96m – one of the best ever throws by a British 16-year-old – and he also came second in the shot (14.92m) and discus (37.65m) in a personal best.
The men’s throws proved to be one of the strongest areas with Ianto Davis winning the B shot in a big PB of 10.43m and the B discus in a season’s best of 27.32m.
Not to be outdone, James Chamberlain also threw a season’s best to win the B javelin (46.73m), while in the hammer Graham Black threw a season’s best (26.69m) and Dan Hague made his debut in the senior event to throw well for fifth place with 19.65m.
Paula Williams took part in all four throws and the highlight was the javelin in which she threw 37.37m to win and go top of the UK rankings for her age group by a massive nine metres. She also won the shot put, in which she is ranked fourth in the country.
Mona Millward-Brookes was the very able B thrower in the shot (sixth), discus (fourth) and hammer (fifth), while sprinter Imogen Sheppard threw a javelin PB to come fifth.
The middle-distance events were particularly demanding, given the warm conditions. Georgie Campbell usually races in the longer races but dropped down to the 800m and won with a three-second PB. She followed this up soon afterwards with a 3,000m and, despite taking it relatively easy, won by more than a minute.
Cadie Hibberd won the B race, again by more than a minute from the second B runner. The 1,500m was a good quality race won by steeplechaser Katie Ingle from Sutton Coldfield but Abbie Wootton held on for fourth, despite not being at her best. In the B race, Freya Ramsey made her senior debut and came third.
David Battersby was just outside his best in the 800m A race, while David Jones ran the B race, despite only coming to support the team. He was rewarded by moving to 27th in the UK rankings in his age group.
There were two good second-placed finishes in the 1,500m – Oscar Barbour in the A race and Ben Jones holding on with a fine finishing sprint in the B race – both with PBs.
In the 3,000m, Ollie Senior ran well on his track debut to claim a fine third place with veteran Malcolm Bowyer finishing a strong sixth place in the B race.
Earlier in the day, Stratford won all four 400m hurdles races to get the event off to a wonderful start. Anna Gionis won the A race with a strong run. Jess Sheppard has been a regular in the 400m over the past couple of seasons but tried out in the 400m hurdles at this match and ran well to win the B race.
Cavan Farrow and Martyn Helliker both won the men’s races in season’s bests. Jess also came third with a fine run in the 100m while Jasmine Williams ran well to finish fourth in the B race.
Imogen Sheppard had only just returned from a trip to the USA so did well to claim fourth in the 200m and third in the 400m (another PB). Gionis ran the B 200m only 40 minutes after her hurdles race and did well to finish third.
Due to holidays and injury there was no B 400m runner, so Williams stepped up to run her first ever race over the distance and ran brilliantly to finish fourth before returning to her comfort zone to win the B triple jump in a PB to cap an excellent day.
In the sprint hurdles there was a double for Stratford in the women’s event as Emily Madden Forman won the A race and Maddie Clark the B race (yet another PB) after being drafted in following an injury to the original B athlete.
Martin Helliker followed his 400m hurdles with a fourth place in the 110m hurdles. Between the two hurdles races he fitted in fourth place in a 3,000m steeplechase, so he has had plenty of hurdling.
Mathew Millward-Brookes has made a big impact in the team since joining this season and continued his good progress, coming second in the 100m, third in the 200m and second in the long jump.
The B sprinters were both specialist 400m runners – Adam Bayliss was fifth in the 100m while Harry Allwood was second in the 200m – both with PBs. In their main event they were fifth and fourth respectively in high-quality races.
James Gionis took part in all three jumps – coming third in the B long jump and first in the B high jump. He and Farrow both jumped the same height and the latter was fourth in the A event.
The same pairing took part in the triple jump, both coming third, with Farrow jumping a PB in the A event and Gionis likewise in the B event.
There was more success in the women’s jumps as Madden Forman claimed a PB to come second in the long jump, followed by the same position in the triple and a win in the high jump. Clark was third in both the B high and long jump.
The highlight of the relays at the end of the match was a win by the women’s 4x100m team. The men’s sprint relay team were fourth, while both 4x400m teams were third – the men in a season’s best.
“This was another fantastic team performance,” said Stratford manager Paul Hawkins. “After last season’s promotion I was confident we would be OK in this higher division but to win all four matches is just incredible and shows the strength of the team.
“I’m so pleased for all of them. I’m sure we can keep progressing next season, we’ve got nothing to fear in Division Three.”
Report by Paul Hawkins.