A FOURTH-PLACED finish in Birmingham was enough for Stratford Athletic Club’s youngsters to move into first place in the West Midland Young Athletes Cross Country League.
Although the Perry Park course was not as muddy as it might have been, strong winds made conditions difficult and the club’s juniors rose to the challenge in style, writes David Parkin.
Stratford had full teams competing in all eight races and this proved enough to move them to the summit at the halfway point of the season.
Leading the performances for Stratford were Alex Adams winning his 16th race in a row and Tessa Parkin, who richly deserved to win her first race in the league after five second-placed finishes over the last two seasons.
The U17 women competed in the first race over a 4km, 2.5-lap course. Georgie Campbell (2nd, 16:45) started strongly to compete with Ella Semple of Birchfield Harriers, running on her home course.
By the end of the first lap Semple had a five-second advantage which continued to grow over the course of the race, despite a fine, battling performance from Campbell.
Ellen Taylor (21st, 19:11) and Gigi Thomas (19:26) ran much of the first lap very close together, with Taylor pulling ahead in the second half of the race. Charlotte Gravelsons (38th, 23:14) will have been pleased with her performance in finishing several places further up the field than her previous race.
Maxime Verstraeten (10th, 06:29) found himself a little boxed in as the U11 boys got off to a very fast start, but should be pleased to have secured his second successive top ten finish in a competitive race.
Joel Ledgard (23rd, 06:47) improved five places on the previous race and was closely followed by Joshua Davies (27th, 06:51) and Samuel Plumb (31st, 07:00). Arthur Mansbridge (39th, 07:07), Aran Cooper (40th, 07:08) and Alfie Musk (41st, 07:10) clearly enjoyed the team approach as they appeared to run the entire race three abreast.
Harry Francioni (47th, 07:19), Ewan Sparrow (56th 07:36) and Henry Sims (79th, 07:54) completed the team, which finished third.
As in the previous fixture, the U17 men fielded a strong team, with Will Crowfoot (23rd, 18:26) leading the team home over the 4.8km distance.
Second for Stratford, in one of the most improved Stratford performances of the day, was Josh Dobedoe (29th, 19:06) up ten places from his previous race. Ned Campbell (38th, 19:49) also looked good, managing to just get the better of team-mate Cameron Thomas (39th, 20:00). Joel Watson (41st, 20:11), Thomas Mayes (45th, 20:44), Fin Hutchinson (48th, 21:26) and Harry Gravelsons (55th, 22:06) completed the team.
Team performance of the day went to the U11 girls, with two finishers in the first three. Tessa Parkin (1st, 06:34) had another fast start and was comfortably into second place by the halfway mark. Keeping close on the heels of the leader, she accelerated sharply up the final hill into the finish to secure her first ever league win.
Annie Silvers (3rd, 06:47) had a fabulous race and was justifiably proud of her highest ever finish. Marijke Tear-Verweij (23rd, 07:34), Lois Ford (28th, 07:43) and Amelia Peeke (56th, 08:21), all running a year under age, completed a strong team performance in cementing second place in the league.
A very special mention should go to Harriet Black (61st, 08:28), who was running well in around 30th place, when she lost her shoe in the mud – most of the field went past as she got it back on – but she battled back through with great determination.
The phenomenon that is Alex Adams (1st, 11:12) led from the start of the U15 boys race and again looked comfortable throughout, putting in a burst of acceleration to the finish to settle the matter in fine style.
Adam Taylor (25th, 12:53) had a good day, getting ahead of team-mates Theo Skirvin (31st, 13:07) and Taylor Stubbins (32nd, 13:08) who battled it out throughout the race. Caleb Spriggs (38th, 13:28) showed an astonishing turn of pace into the finish to claim another point and Joe Warner (51st, 14:09) and Ed Holcroft (53rd, 14:13) both also ran well to improve their positions on the previous fixture.
The U13 girls enjoyed another fine team performance, finishing second overall. Maddie Linfoot (6th, 10:43) looked particularly determined as she overtook up the final hill to achieve her highest ever finish in the league.
The ever-battling Niamh Hillard (11th, 11:00) continued her excellent season and Abbi Cooper (22nd, 11:17) and Maisie-Joy Spriggs (28th, 11:35) both pushed hard in the second lap to consolidate their positions. The team also included Caitlin Boyle (37th, 11:49), Emma Francioni (50th, 12:14), the strongly improving Tilly Campbell (51st 12:17), Lucy Thomas (53rd, 12:22), Martha Peters (55th, 12:27) and Ella Peeke (75th, 13:16).
William Mayes (29th, 10:43) again looked assured in the U13 boys and was closely followed by James Day (31st, 10:46), who ran well to move up five places from the previous fixture. Flynn Dathan (52nd 11:26), Barnaby Richards (57th, 11:34) and Oliver Hemming (62nd, 11:49) made up the scoring positions and the team also included Ben Herbert (69th, 11:55) and Seb Hillard (70th, 11:57) who was running his first race of the season due to injury.
The U15 girls have to endure going last and this was made worse by the weather closing in with a heavy rainshower. Charlotte Marshall (5th, 13:21) had another barnstorming performance, moving up from ninth at the end of the first lap to eventually claim a very impressive fifth position.
Poppy Fox-Rowe (32nd, 14:36), making her season debut after a successful summer on the track, ran well, as did Holly Newton (51st, 15:22). Molly Bullock (61st, 16:19) managed to compete despite also juggling a swimming fixture and Georgia Pridham (75th, 19:12) dug deep to earn valuable points for the team.
Stratford go into the next fixture at Nuneaton on January 12 in the unprecedented position of being first in the league.