STRATFORD Athletic Club’s juniors completed their league cross country season in apocalyptic weather as Storm Ciara unleashed itself on Aldersley Stadium in Wolverhampton, writes David Parkin.
The town’s athletes rose to the challenge though as they battled with other runners and the elements to help the club finish second in the West Midland Young Athletes Cross Country League – their highest ever finish out of 21 clubs and with a haul of individual and team medals.
For many Stratford athletes, it was the last league race of their junior careers and Georgie Campbell marked the occasion by winning the U17 women’s championship.
Alex Adams (U15B) was crowned league champion for the fourth successive year and remains unbeaten over this period and Tessa Parkin (U11G) won her first championship.
Campbell (1st, 16:44) has been a model of talent, hard work and consistency for younger members of the club and this race was no exception. Opening up an early lead in the U17 women’s race, Campbell pushed hard all the way to the finish, despite the second-placed runner being out of sight.
Ellen Taylor (16th, 19:05) made a welcome return to the team and ran well. Gigi Thomas rolled an ankle in a water-filled ditch and was unable to continue, leaving the hard-working Charlotte Gravelsons to make up the final scoring position for the club in her last race. The U17W finished third overall to secure a well-deserved team medal.
The U11 boys’ race is usually the most competitive and congested. Fast starts are important and Maxime Verstraeten (8th, 06:26) sprinted hard to get well-positioned on the opening hill. Maintaining his top ten position throughout the race, his result positioned him in an excellent 7th place overall in the league.
Joshua Davies (18th, 06:53) showed good endurance to move up a few places in the second half of the race to earn his best ever finishing position, as did Samuel Plumb (24th, 07:06). Aran Cooper (33rd, 07:19) and Joel Ledgard (36th, 07:19) completed the scoring positions with consistent runs, giving the team a third-placed medal.
Harry Francioni (39th, 07:23), Arthur Mansbridge (42nd, 07:30), Alfie Musk (44th, 07:30) and Henry Sims (70th, 08:06) comprised the remainder of the team.
The U17 men’s team has been one of the stories of the season, with lots of heart and team camaraderie. Cameron Thomas (21st, 20:52) put in a fine performance for his best position of the season, closely followed by Josh Dobedoe (24th, 21:19), who took his usual approach of starting steadily and working his way up the field.
Ned Campbell (25th, 21:31) completed the scoring positions, just ahead of James Mucklow (27th, 21:42) who slipped back in the second half of the race. Thomas Mayes (31st, 22:20), Joel Watson (34th, 22:54), Cameron Black (36th, 23:09), Fin Hutchinson, 37th, 23:57) and Harry Gravelsons (39th, 26:10) completed the team, with Hutchinson and Gravelsons also saying goodbye to junior racing after many years of competing.
The U11 girls have been Stratford’s team of the season, securing a second place medal with a further round of strong performances. First home for Stratford was Tessa Parkin (3rd, 07:00) who ran with her characteristic fight to round off a fabulous season and secure her first league championship.
Close on her heels through the race was the combative Annie Silvers (5th, 07:03) who was delighted with her second top five finish of the season. Marijke Tear-Verweij (11th, 07:23), running a year under age had another excellent performance, although could not quite hold onto her strong start in the second half of the race.
Harriet Black (36th, 07:58) returned from injury with a good run and Ava Sheppard (48th, 08:14) and Amelia Peeke (49th, 08:14) crossed the line together. Olivia Verstraeten (54th, 08:20) and Alice Richards (65th, 08:51) made their club debuts with good runs and Lily-Mai Pagan (76th, 10:13) completed the team with another consistent outing.
The U15 boys’ season has been dominated once again by Alex Adams, winning his 18th race and fourth league title in succession. Despite racing in Bournemouth on the previous day, Adams looked confident and relaxed, winning by a comfortable 16 seconds.
Second for Stratford was Taylor Stubbins (23rd, 13:42) who equalled his best result of the season. Theo Skirvin (29th, 14:02) has raced well all season and had another good outing and Adam Taylor (37th, 14:22) and Tom Francioni (38th, 14:26) made up the scoring positions.
Caleb Spriggs (43rd, 14:32) put in a trademark sprint at the end to pick up three places in the final 100 yards and the strong team was completed by Robbie Gemmill (47th, 14:44), Ed Holcroft (54th, 15:10) and Joe Warner (58th, 15:45).
The U13 girls’ league has been led by a strong Wolverhampton & Bilston squad, who, quite remarkably, secured the first five league positions. Maddie Linfoot (9th, 10:28) ran another determined race and has once again been Stratford’s best U13G performer over the season, finishing in seventh place in the league.
Niamh Hillard (15th, 10:43) ran well before slipping back a few places in the second half of the race, while Abbi Cooper (19th, 10:53) made up ground. Maisie-Joy Spriggs (26th, 11:02) has worked hard all season and was rewarded with her best position of the year and was closely followed by Caitlin Boyle (30th, 11:17) and Martha Peters (34th, 11:22) who had a particularly impressive outing.
The team also included Lucy Thomas (38th, 11:33), Emma Francioni (41st, 11:37), Tilly Campbell (54th), Ella Peeke (55th, 12:04), Ruby Edwards (75th, 13:04) and Katie Pridham (76th, 13:11).
The most miserable conditions of a diabolical day were reserved for the U13 boys. Darkness fell, the wind increased to a gale and competitors disappeared behind sheets of falling water.
William Mayes (31st, 10:46) led the bedraggled team home in what has been an excellent first season of competition and was followed by a close formation of Stratford athletes in James Day (33rd, 10:48), Barnaby Richards (34th, 10:49) and Seb Hillard (36th, 10:51).
Joe Lewis (40th, 10:55), Henry Wheeler (50th, 11:28), Alex McMillan (63rd, 12:08) and Hugh Markham (66th, 12:13) were the other unfortunate members of the team to be out in the storm.
Last out on the course were the U15 girls. While the storm abated marginally, the course was a sea of puddles and mud and the sharp, grassy descent became increasingly precarious.
As she has done all season, Charlotte Marshall (4th, 14:29) ran a compelling race in a tight bunch and was unfortunate to just be pushed into fourth on the line. Nonetheless, her fourth place in the league has been one of the strongest and most improved performance in the team, up from 51st last season.
Olivia Robinson (8th, 15:12) could not quite keep with the pace of the leading group off the start, but maintained her position in a battling performance which bodes well for next season.
Poppy Fox-Rowe (38th, 16:41) and Holly Newton (48th, 17:43) both put in determinedly consistent runs and Georgia Pridham (68th, 22:48) who was almost the last person on the course but puts in as much effort as anyone on the team secured an invaluable 133 points for Stratford.
Stratford AC’s junior cross country squad completed their most successful season ever, just beaten by a strong Wolverhampton & Bilston team on their home course in the final league match of the season.