West Midlands Young Athletes Cross Country League
Fixture 1 – Walsall Arboretum
SUACC Juniors swoop in at 3rd position in preliminary performance of season
Report by Rachel Stevens.
With the 2022 track season all but a distant memory, last Sunday heralded the opening of the West Midland Young Athletes Cross Country League at Walsall Arboretum. A complement of clear blue skies, autumnal mildness and a night’s light rain relieving the ground of its summer firmness culminated in ideal running conditions for fifty-nine of Stratford’s finest young athletes. The new and even flatter course hinted at fast times. And it didn’t disappoint.
The U17 Women set the tone giving determined and resolute performances – especially note-worthy given the entire team has just moved up an age-category. A highlight was the gripping finish between Maisey-Joy Spriggs (720/15:59) and Niamh Hillard (716/16:00), with MJ clinching 5th and Niamh, 7th just one second later. Of further note was Abbi Cooper (712/17th/17:23) finishing in her highest placement yet. A delighted Abbi drew the admiration of her team-mates for improving so early in the season. Imminently was a strong looking Lucy Thomas (721/21st/17:42) and rising to the occasion in their debut U17 performances were Emily Cottam (714/39th/20:08), Alice Cottam (713/42nd/20:28) and Tilly Campbell (711/44th/21:07).
Overall, a marvellous team effort placed the ladies in an impressive 2nd position in the league table.
A welcomed wide neck at the start of the course meant the more experienced U11 boys could avoid the dreaded tussle evoked by the starting hooter, whilst one or two of our younger novices were observably stunned by its volume. After a guiding shout of, ‘That means run!’, they were jolted out of their shock and took off with fervent focus. Belying his lack of experience, debut runner Toby Ledgard (791/31st/06:00) paced himself splendidly and was first in for Stratford. Next was Callum Linforth (793/68th/06:27) with a terrific sprint finish, just pipping Eli Ford (790/69th/06:28). Then within seconds came Henry Thomas (795/76th/06:31) and Arthur Chadburn (790/79th/06:33) bolstering the team performance, resulting in 10thposition in the league. It was particularly pleasing to see young Tyler Li (792/104th/07:05), still only in Year 4, don his yellow vest with pride and successfully overcome his nerves to finish the day grinning – a great reminder that not all successes are measured by numbers.
This reminder was further exemplified in the U17s Men’s race. Coming back after only two training sessions since injury, Stratford’s five times reigning WMYACCL champion Alex Adams (722/16:45) showed no complacency. Acknowledging his commitment to the sport, his SUAAC team-mates willed on Adams during the sprint finish for 2nd position in, arguably, the tensest moment of the day and what a sprint finish it was: Adams dug deep and dispatched his 3rd-placed challenger. Next in for Stratford were the four younger members of the team: Milo Cullimore (723/24th/18:15); Jaicob Ford (724/31st/18:40); Henry Wheeler (728/37th/19:03) and Hugh Markham (727/52nd/21:11). All four proved they are capable of the huge leap to U17 racing. That SUAAC can enter a team of five in this age-category is no mean feat and quite the rarity. Resultantly, the team started its season in 5th – a very promising position.
The U11 girls applied themselves steadfastly with the top four performers separated by just 18 seconds. Emulating the U17 women, the two highest finishers, Amelie Marshall (785/20th/06:05) and Maggie Silvers (11124/23rd/06:13) were also separated by just one dramatic second. There were further determined performances from Jasmine Mothershaw (786/28th/06:19) with young Emily Lambert (784/40th/06:30) and Martha Edwards (781/62nd/06:51) displaying their running pedigrees. Evangeline Harris (783/97th/07:27) and Layla Sparrow (787/120/08:27) also gave robust performances in what was the largest pack of the day. Much promise from our youngest girls saw them also take an opening 5th position in the league.
There were similarl fashionably close splits amongst the fraternity that is the U15s boys’ team. In a cracking run, the elder of the Lambert brothers, Zak (749/11:02), was first in for the club clinching an impressive 10th overall. William Mayes (751/13th/11:07) scuppered a ‘Lambert Double’ by finishing between the brothers as young Sam Lambert (748/11:17) became the third Stratford lad with an impressively decisive run to finish 18th overall. Promising new boy Thomas Fisher (744/22nd/11:22) and James Day (742/28th/11:38) both ran convincingly and were also soon over the line. Seb Hillard (747/51st/12:36) James Mayes – twin to William – (1123/53rd/12:40) and Josh Harrison (746/56th/12:51) formed a close trio of yellow vests with Ewan Sparrow (754/78th/14:21) yet again proving himself a dedicated and dependable member of the team. With an emerging reputation for reliable performances the U15 boys’ team lies deservedly in 2nd position.
Continuing their success from last season, the U13’s girls saw the ever-dependable Marijke Tear-Verweij (764/09:01) finish superbly in overall 5th. Thereafter was a swathe of yellow in the top third of the pack as Lois Ford (756/21st/09:38), Ava Sheppard (762/27th/09:44), Portia Nabney (757/29th/09:45), Amelia Peeke (758/35th/09:51) and Stella Sant (760/42nd/10:05) all finished within 27 seconds of one another. Georgia Sharpe (761/70th/10:47) and Rachel Sparrow (763/73rd/10:50) rounded off the team’s great efforts seeing it secure 3rd place in the league table. A very encouraging start to the season!
Not to be outdone by the girls, the U13 boys put in a stellar team performance clinching no less than five of the top eleven positions. Particular mention goes to Will Hovell (965/4th/08:01) who is usually more at home on the track. To his own great surprise, Will placed a phenomenal 4th overall in his debut club cross-country race and might just have been sufficiently inspired to see what he is capable of on the Welcombe Hills. Second in this formidable team was Aran Cooper (765/ 6th/08:15) replicating his strong 2022 track performances; then came the exciting prospect of Arthur Williamson (779/ 7th/08:19) who is new to the club this year. Arthur exuded great physical presence keeping a cool demeanour from start to finish and culminating in a remarkable 7th. Despite falling on a bend, Joel Ledgard (770/08:22) regained focus and motored home in overall 10th, with the agile Sam Plumb (774/08:23) hot on his heels securing 11th. First to finish in the younger sub-category was the promising new-comer Kipp Stevens (777/19th/08:45), translating his impressive work-ethic in training into an equally impressive 19th position. Arthur Mansbridge (771/08:59) and Alfie Musk (772/09:11) followed with focussed performances, both finding themselves easily inside the top half of the pack. Credit also to Toby Spriggs (776/78th/10:34) and Ben Harrison (769/ 93rd/12:03) for their resilient running in their first year as U13 cross-country runners. A thrilling start for the U13 boys taking top slot in the league!
The U15 girls finished off the day with a masterclass in keeping your head. The Stratford pack worked reliably despite the challenging pace, with one or two competitors saying they would have preferred a hillier course: Martha Peters missed playing to her hill-climbing strengths whilst Bo Algate humorously pined for the downhill bits! Nevertheless, Martha Peters (734/13:58) led the U15 girls home securing 35thwith Annie Silvers (736/42nd/14:08) second in for Stratford. It was especially great to see Tessa Parkin (733/55th/14:39) return this season, slotting straight back in as if she had never been away. The three Bs of Bo Algate (729/56th/14:40), Bayleigh Stubbins (738/72nd/16:23) and Brooke Rossney (735/82nd/18:00) were welcome additions to the U15s team this year and have already shored up this team’s reputation for committed performances. Overall, the team is holding its own in 6th position.
Ultimately, Walsall delivered on its promise of a fast and challenging course and the SUAAC young athletes showed they could rise to the challenge. All round, a splendid day’s work especially for those in their debut races and for those new to club. Opening in overall 3rd position, this year’s cross-country team are brimming with potential in what could prove to be a cracking season. Watch this space…