A FOOT of overnight snow brought about the cancellation of last year’s West Midlands Junior Cross Country League meeting at Perry Park, but considerably more benign conditions greeted Stratford Athletic Club runners and Co for Sunday’s 2018 version at the Birmingham venue.
Heavy rain had made some sections of the course quite tricky but it was not enough to prevent Stratford securing their best result of the season so far.
On a relatively short, flat course and despite many members of the team having raced at the Schools Inter-Counties just 24 hours prior, Stratford placed third out of 20 clubs and strengthened their hold on third place in the league.
The U17 women had another strong team performance, with Georgie Campbell again battling at the front before being pipped at the post in a sprint finish (2nd, 16:38). Imogen Sheppard had another fine performance (11th, 18:05) in a consistent season.
Unfortunately, Daisy Musk had to withdraw while in a promising position, which on another day would have posed problems for the team but Abi Wootton, in her first outing of the season, ran a strong race to take the third scoring position (13th, 18:18). Daisy Nicolle (30th, 20:04) and Charlotte Gravelsons (36th, 21:12) made up the team.
The U11 boys had a tougher outing, with rapidly-improving Maxime Verstraeten (22nd, 6:42) first finisher for the team, closely followed by James Day (27th, 6:46).
The next three finishers for Stratford all finished within two seconds of each other, scrapping hard even up the sharp climb to the finish. Flynn Dathan (32nd, 6:51) just edged out Seb Hillard (33rd, 6:51) and Joe Lewis (34th, 6:52).
Oliver Hemming (44th, 7:00) and Alex McMillan (73rd, 7:19) both improved on their previous outing and the remaining team members were Harry Francioni (96th, 7:47) and Ewan Lindsey (100th, 7:53).
In the U17 men’s race, Owain Jones (30th, 18:47), Will Crowfoot (40th, 19:25) and Tom Crowfoot (42nd, 19:34) worked hard and took the scoring positions. Owain had made a last-minute decision to compete, having been suffering from a bronchial virus leading up to the race.
Completing the team were Josh Angus (52nd, 21:00) who ran with obvious commitment and Oliver Adams (56th, 21:47) who looked like he was feeling fitter than in his previous race.
A fast start in the U11 girls’ race saw the Stratford team having to make up ground throughout the race. Tessa Parkin and Annie Silvers pushed each other on as they made their way through the field, with Parkin (2nd, 6:47) outsprinting several rivals on the final climb. Silvers (8th, 6:53) ran a great race and was delighted to secure her first top ten finish.
Ruby Edwards (30th, 7:29) made a huge improvement to achieve her best ever result and was chased all the way by Martha Peters (33rd, 7:35) and Harriet Black (36th, 7:38).
An excellent team performance saw them joined in the top 50 by Olivia Hawkyard (43rd, 7:44), Ella Peeke (45th, 7:48) and Marijke Tear-Verweij (48th, 7:51), all of which were solid improvements on previous performances.
Martha Bullock (86th, 8:27) and Eleanor McElvogue (104th, 8:47), in her first race, both competed hard for the team.
The U15 boys were down on numbers due to the schools’ county match the previous day, but were led home by a great run from Cameron Thomas (25th, 12:41) to achieve his highest finish.
Louis Kendrick (31st, 12:57) was back on form and was followed by Caleb Spriggs (41st, 13:15), who appears to like having a finish-line tussle with team-mates, Tom Francioni (42nd, 13:19) and Joel Watson (43rd, 13:21). Harry Gravelsons (53rd, 14:18) was just outside the scoring positions, but ran well to achieve his best finish of the season.
The U13 girls deserve the accolade of team performance of the day, with great improvements from many of the athletes. Maddie Linfoot (11th, 10:46) was back on top form and achieved her best finish in this age group, up from 27th in the previous race.
Leah Bowen (15th, 10:54) also brought her A game with her and Niamh Hillard (26th, 11:11) was pleased with her race which involved a hard-fought battle with Molly Bullock (31st, 11:19). Abbi Cooper (54th, 11:51) and Caitlin Boyle (58th, 11:56) demonstrated ultimate consistency with the same finishing positions as the previous race.
Lucy Thomas (64th, 12:08), Maisie-Joy Spriggs (68th, 12:13), Tilly Campbell (91st, 13:02) and Katie Pridham (103rd, 13:45) all improved their placings from the last race and Emma Francioni (85th, 12:49) can be pleased with her first race of the season.
Alex Adams (1st, 9:06) stretched out an early lead in the U13 boys’ race to eventually win by a comfortable 20-second margin, his mum’s cheering from Malaga clearly helping him set the pace.
Adam Taylor (14th, 10:04) is having a great season and improved again and Oscar Fines-Allin (23rd, 10:23) had another consistently strong performance. Theo Skirvin (63rd, 11:27) had a tough outing, dropping down the field a little from his previous race and was closely followed by Angus Lindsay (72nd, 11:51) and Ed Twyman (87th, 12:51).
The last race of the day was, as ever, the U15 girls and was a fabulous spectacle of racing, with Stratford’s first two runners Ellie Deaner and Ellen Taylor exchanging places half a dozen times over the two-lap course.
At the end, it was Taylor (27th, 13:59) who held on to outsprint Deaner (28th, 14:00), but credit should go to both for pushing each other so hard. Gigi Thomas (41st, 14:49) and Charlotte Marshall (54th, 15:54) both ran well, but the final words should be reserved for Aimee Harridge (77th, 19:38).
Harridge, who looked like she would rather have been anywhere else than a cross country race, stuck at it and, despite finishing well down the field, earned an incredibly valuable 124 points for the team, without which Stratford would not have achieved their third-placed finish overall.
The next race in the league is at Abington Park, Northampton, on January 13. Report by David Parkin.