In the eye of the storm.

Alex McMillan – A picture paints a thousand words ! This just about sums up the day.
This week’s newsletter is all about our junior’s final XC league fixture of the season. This is due in part because it was such a special and memorable event and in part because I haven’t received any other reports.

I know there were senior XC fixtures for both our men’s and ladies teams and I’ve been promised reports on those for next week.

Best Wishes

David Jones
Our 3 individual age category winners for the season – Georgie Campbell, Alex Adams and Tessa Parkin.

West Midland Young Athletes’ Cross-Country League 2019/20

Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton

9th February 2020

Storming performances for Stratford in Junior Cross-Country League

Report written by David Parkin

Our junior XC team completed their league cross-country in apocalyptic weather as Storm Ciara unleashed itself on Wolverhampton.

Demonstrating incredible levels of fortitude, athletes from all clubs battled with each other and the elements.

Stratford were delighted to finish second in the league, their highest ever finish out of 21 competing clubs and with a haul of individual and team medals.

For many Stratford AC athletes it was the last league race of their junior careers and Georgie Campbell marked the occasion by securing 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.

Georgie 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, she pushed hard all the way to the finish, despite the second place 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 3rd place 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. Annie also finished in 5th place overall in the league

Marijke Tear-Verweij (11th, 07:23), running a year under age had another excellent performance, although couldn’t 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 4thleague 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 7th 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, he 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, with the sharp grassy descent 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) couldn’t 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. She should be delighted with her 8th place overall in the league.

Poppy Fox-Rowe (38th, 16:41) and Holly Newton (48th, 17:43) both put in determinedly consistent runs. And, very last on the honours list is 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, and secured an invaluable 133 points for Stratford.

Stratford AC junior cross-country squad completed their most successful season ever, just beaten by a strong Wolverhampton and Bilston team on their home course in the final league match of the season.

The result reflects the ongoing hard work of the coaches and parents, but most of all the athletes themselves – these things don’t happen by accident.

Special thanks are also due to John and Andy Turner who officiated in the most appalling conditions.

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The U13 boys team really did race in the very worst of the conditions. This was taken before the race started and they could still all raise a smile.
The Wild Bunch.
I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of coaches and officials – answers on a postcard please.

Paul Hawkins – Team Manager.

“We’ve had a fantastic season in the league and it’s been a wonderful effort from every single one of the team to be up there challenging for the win right up to the last race of the last match.

It was probably appropriate that the weather was at its worst for this match because it showed just how committed all of our athletes are, with 66 of them racing in Storm Ciara.

And it wasn’t just the athletes who showed their commitment, so a big shout out to all of the coaching team and our officials who made it all happen. Oh and all the chauffeurs and supporters, aka parents for everything they do.

Finally, no I’m not satisfied with second. We can and will do better!”
Band of Brothers.
Our U17 mens team.
The U15 girls team
Observations of a Coach.

David Jones.

And so the curtain falls on another junior cross country league season, a season that has been the most successful in the club’s 40 year history and one that culminated in the us finishing 2nd in a league of 21.

As well as 3 individual age category winners for the season we also had a further 11 top ten finishes and 3 team medals.

I’ve said it before but I think it’s worth repeating that the West Midland Young Athlete Cross Country League (WMYACC) is the strongest cross country league in the UK for younger age group athletes.

Dave Parkin’s superb report above tells in great detail the story of the day. I thought I would try and put this season in to historical context and also tell a few of the human stories from the day

The progress made by our juniors this season has been truly remarkable, finishing just 295 points behind the champions Wolverhampton and Bilston. Wolves finished the season with 25256 points against our own tally of 24961.

It was always going to be a Herculean task to win the overall championship, with the existing champions Wolverhampton and Bilston having the advantage of a home tie for the final league fixture of the season and so it proved.

Our juniors literally had to go into the lion’s den ( wolves lair ? ) in an attempt to win and they were oh so close.

To illustrate the progress made by our juniors, it is worth noting that for the last 25 years the league has been a virtual triopoly with just Wolves, Rugby & Northampton and Royal Sutton Coldfield having won the title in that time.

10 years ago we finished in 8th place, 9349 points behind the winners, 5 years ago we had progressed to 5th place but still 6838 points shy of the top spot, even last year we were 4th, some 4399 points behind the champions Wolves. These historical figures truly put into perspective what a fabulous season it has been.

It would seem to me that what you need to win this league is a combination of outstanding individuals and strength in depth, one without the other is just not good enough. As a club we know have that combination.

The importance of being able to field full teams in fixture after fixture cannot be overestimated. Royal Sutton Coldfield had just one competitor in the opening race on Sunday, the U17 ladies race. That effectively killed off their hopes of winning the title.

Wolverhampton and Bilston were able to field a full team in the final race of the day, this is something they haven’t often been able to do but it meant that if all of their 5 girls finished the championship was theirs and so it proved.

Our strength in depth was once again illustrated with no fewer than 66 juniors competing in the most appalling weather conditions.

On Sunday, it was a case of from “Georgie to Georgia”, with Georgie Campbell winning the first race of the day and Georgia Pridham somehow finding the strength of character to finish the last race of the day, in so doing she gained the team 133 points. Georgia has earned 508 points throughout the season.

Sandwiched in between these two performances were 64 more performances of absolute character and determination.

For those of you who weren’t there, I’d like to share some of the human stories of a day that once again produced both laughter and tears in abundance.

The first race of the day saw Gigi Thomas having to be almost dragged from the course by her dad. She had sustained a really painful injury but wanted to carry on “for the sake of the team”. Her father very sensibly took the decision that her health and well being should take priority.

There was the sight of Ewan Sparrow, having been treated by the medics, limping badly with his bare foot and ankle heavily strapped with an ice pack. Despite this and with his trademark smile, he was keen to assure me that he would be fit for training on Thursday.

Tessa Parkin, having raced on Saturday morning was then taken to hospital in an ambulance on Saturday afternoon. It would be an understatement to say that, at the time, her chances of racing on Sunday were somewhat remote. However, thankfully she was given the all clear and somehow she not only managed to race on the day but to finish 3rd and in doing so was crowned U11 girls champion of the season by just 3 points.

I think it would be fair to say that the U13 boys experienced the worst conditions of the day. Following his race, Seb Hillard was heard to say that he never wanted to run in those conditions again. I know him and I don’t believe him. I know how committed he is and asked to do exactly the same next week, I’m 100% sure he would.

Something else that struck me on Sunday, with several of the team competing in the juniors for the last time, was how children come along to training as 8 or 9 year olds, not knowing many of the others in the group but then, over the course of a few years training and competing together, many of them become really good mates, forming long term and meaningful friendships that, I’m pretty sure in many cases, transcend athletics.

When you read above of the strength in depth and quality of our junior endurance athletes and you put that together with the equal strength in depth and quality of our junior T&F athletes, I think few would argue that these really are halcyon days for our juniors and that this augurs well for the coming years.

We’ve got some pretty good seniors as well !

A final word of thanks should also be extended to John and Andy Turner who officiated on the day, literally in the eye of the storm. It takes a special sort of person to be as giving and as unselfish as those two guys. Thank you.

Wayne’s World.
What better way to spend your 50th birthday than at a wet and windy junior XC fixture.
From the top – U11 boys, U15 boys and U13 girls.
A special thanks to Mike Sheppard for most of the photos.
Poppy Fox Rowe and Holly Newton.
Charly Marshall.
Ellen Taylor and Olivia Robinson.
Charlotte Gravelsons and Marijke Tear-Verweij
Henry Wheeler and William Mayes
James Mucklow leads Cameron Thomas.
Josh Dobedoe and Annie Silvers.
Robbie Gemmill and Taylor Stubbins
Maddie Linfoot
Josh Davies and Harry Francioni.
Abbi Cooper and Maisy-Joy Spriggs battle it out
Arthur Mansbridge and Henry Sims.
Arran Cooper leads Harry Francioni and Alfie Musk.
Alfie Musk and Ava Sheppard.
Emma Francioni and Martha Peters
Theo Skirvin followed up his 2nd place finish in the Stratford parkrun on Saturday with another excellent performance
Joe Warner and Tom Francioni
Caitlin Boyle
Ruby Edwards and Katie Pridham.
James Mucklow and Ed Holcroft.
Alice Richards and Joel Legard
Harriet Black.
Ned Campbell and Max Verstraeten
And Finally
Did we mention that the weather was bad ?
Joe Lewis, William Mayes and James Day battle against the elements.
Our tent and a puddle !
Mud – of which there was plenty !