West Midlands Young Athletes Cross Country League
Report – Rachel Stevens
Requisitioned by His Majesty’s Government for the Secret Intelligence Service during WWII, Newbold Revel provided the backdrop for the second fixture of the cross-country season. This was particularly apt as it coincided with Remembrance Sunday. Hence, thoughts for the sacrifices of those gone before us were mixed with hopes for the sporting moments ahead.
The fine setting and equally fine weather made conditions appear ideal. However, a very tight course with a carpet of leaves camouflaging many a pesky tree root and adverse camber promised unsettling conditions. Newbold Revel would be a test of ankle strength if nothing else.
Given it was Remembrance Sunday and its association with reflecting on the service of others, this report should begin with a note of thanks. Firstly, to Neil Musk and Eleanor Nabney and her partner Richard for volunteering as Race Marshalls for the day and then to the coaches and volunteers who made Awards Night the previous evening such an auspicious occasion. There were congratulations and thanks heard amongst the team and you could feel the motivating effect such public recognition had on our young athletes. Also, to our young athletes for supporting, congratulating and, at times, consoling one another throughout the day. Their ability to switch from thoughts of their own race to that of others was on full display. SUAAC’s reputation for wonderful team spirit is in safe hands.
The U17 Women opened the day. After disappearing from sight for much of the race, there was a burst of excitement when, rounding the final blind bend, Niamh Hillard (15:50) burst into view in overall eighth to finish just as strongly as she had started. This time there was no battle for team top-slot. That exciting tussle was reserved for Maisie-Joy Spriggs (12th/16:28) and Olivia Robinson (13th/ 16:28) both vying for a Stratford second. Invigorated at the final bend, Olivia set her sights on MJ and kicked hard to finish what must have been a mere inch behind – a real thriller of a finish. Other back-to-back finishes saw the strong performances of Abbi Cooper (17:27) and Lucy Thomas (17:54) in overall twenty-first and twenty-second, respectively. Also, there was very pleasing progress for Emily Cottam (33rd/19:17) finishing six places higher than Walsall. And bang on trend, Abi Skinner who returns after being much missed (43rd/20:30) and Tilly Campbell (44th/20:49) also finished consecutively after solid runs. Confident and reliable performances all round see our ladies sit a mere single point behind the league leaders.
Next up were our U11 boys. For many, this was the first experience of lining up in two separate rows and having to navigate a dog-leg bottleneck one hundred metres from the start. However, the tension at the start was nothing compared to that of the finish for the supporters of Eli Ford (35th/06:49) and Toby Ledgard (37th/06:49). They agonisingly watched each boy overtake the other (and then again!) on the final stretch. But it was Eli who clinched the top Stratford slot, improving on his Walsall position by a whopping thirty four places – the biggest improvement across the whole squad. Next in was Arthur Chadburn (70th/07:16) also climbing an impressive nine places overall. Then was Callum Linforth (79th/07:27), Henry Thomas (106th/08:21) and Tyler Li (107th/08:35). A particular mention is due to Henry for overcoming breathing problems at the start: by focussing hard, he regained control to complete a steady run and finish smiling. The U11 boys team currently has 678 league points.
Next in the U17 Men’s race, Alex Adams – riding high from his splendid 10th place finish in the British Athletics Cross Challenge the previous day – reasserted his dominance to win the race convincingly in 16:41. Next for Stratford was the ever-dependable Milo Cullimore (25th/18:54) and then Jaicob Ford (26th/18:58) who, learning from Milo’s experience with great pacing, ran with improved control over the first half enabling him to pick off runners in the latter stages. This resulted in a delighted Jaicob finishing five places higher than at Walsall. The Stratford men maintain their fifth position in the league.
Next up and not to be outdone by the U11 boys, the U11 girls provided an equally thrilling race. Battling from start to finish were Amelie Marshall (17th/06:56) and Jasmine Mothershaw (18th/06:56) with Amelie clinching it over the line. However, Jasmine should feel deservedly happy as she leapt up ten places compared to her opening race. Maggie Silvers (27th/07:03) also ran a fabulous race and finished particularly strongly. Soon up was Martha Edwards (44th/07:18), emulating Jasmine by improving by a huge eighteen places overall. Just behind was Emily Lambert (48th/07:20) who had given Martha a run for her money all the way round. Then it was Evangeline Harris (80th/07:53) and Ruby Whyman Bean (109th/09:00) who, in her debut race, put in a really confident performance. Both girls added to the plethora of smiling faces amongst the team at the finish line. Similarly to the men, the U11 girls remain fifth in the league.
A bolstered U15 boys’ team saw Zak Lambert (7th/10:08) maintain his top slot for Stratford and improve his finishing position by three places, inching ever closer to the top of the board. Then mirroring the Walsall team placings came the yellow vests of William Mayes (14th/10:19) just ahead of the younger Sam Lambert (15th/10:23); then it was Thomas Fisher (23rd/10:42) and James Day (25th/10;52) both having run consistently. Opening his season confidently in forty-fifth was Charlie Clayton (11:22) and it was progress too for James Mayes (49th 11:27) finishing four places higher overall than Walsall. Luca De Freitas Pires (59th/11:47) secured his first cross country time of the season, followed by triathlete Josh Harrison (65th/12:04). Ewan Sparrow (86th/14:21) completed the boys team. Despite feeling disappointed by his own performance and in, perhaps the most sporting moment of the day, Ewan exemplified what it is to give back to your sport: no soon as he had spotted the nerves of some younger runners, he put his own feelings aside to reassure them about their task ahead. A considerate and selfless act.
Thereafter came the U13 girls, with six of the seven girls moving up positions on the finishing board. A delighted Marijke Tear-Verweij (10:39) set the standard by finishing in a stupendous second place – three places up from Walsall and currently sits at second in the league. Lois Ford (11th/11:12) was next in, jumping ten places; Ava Sheppard (21st/11:39) was up six places; then it was Portia Nabney (25th/11:51) and Amelia Peeke (31st/11:55) both jumping up four places. With one of the largest improvements of the day, Rachel Sparrow (54th/ 12:47) leapt up an enormous nineteen places. Georgia Sharpe (79th/13:40) completed the girls’ team and helped it move up to second in the league.
It was back-to-back exceptional team performances for the U13 boys. The strategy was for sprinter Will Hovell to draw the front four quickly to the first bottleneck, ensuring they were in a safe position for the remainder of the narrow course and what a tactic it was because not only were they safely dispatched but it was a sea of Stratford vests that flooded five of the top twelve final positions! Will led the boys home for overall third (09:46) but pushing him all the way was the incredible Aran Cooper in fourth (09:49). With what appeared a rocket-fuelled final fifty metres, Joel Ledgard (5th/09:49) closed in on Aran to finish a fraction behind and, before you could catch your breath, it was Sam Plumb running superbly over the line in seventh (09:55). Having locked his sights onto the front fab four from the outset, young Kipp Stevens (10:11) delivered a cracking performance picking off runners to jump up eight places, finishing 12th overall. Thereafter, came a close trio of Stratford vests: Alfie Musk (28th/10:51) ran a terrific race improving on his position from Walsall by eight places; Arthur Mansbridge (31st/10:55) was spurred on by deservedly receiving the Allan Wood Endeavour Trophy the night before; and Morgan Nabney confidently secured his first cross-country time of the season (33rd/10:57). Also improving on his position was Toby Spriggs (66th/12:01) leaping up twelve places on Walsall. Making his debut appearance for Stratford and completing the team was Jamie Dewhurst (76th/12:55) who delivered a really confident performance from start to finish. After two races, not only is the U13 Boys’ team holding onto top position in the league, but it is putting distance between it and Wolverhampton and Bilston in second. An outstanding team performance!
The day concluded with the U15 girls. In fine form, Annie Silvers (20th/12:29) led the girls home, finishing a huge twenty-two places higher than Walsall. Also showing significant improvement on the previous race were Tessa Parkin (35th/13:03) up twenty places, and Bo Algate (38th/13:18) up eighteen places. Bo even managed to overcome a nasty spiking just after the first bend, made all the sorer for it ruining a new pair of shoes. Next in for Stratford was Martha Peters (50th/13:54) who was one of a few athletes running back to back races this weekend. Hannah Wilkinson (64th/14.35) was a late addition to the team and ran superbly. It was particularly great to see Charlotte Skinner (67th/14:45) running in a Stratford vest once more and start her season with a solid opening performance. Then it was a close finish between Bayleigh Stubbins (72nd/15:16) and Brooke Rossney (73rd/17:18) who progressed by nine places. Overall, the girls moved up a place to fifth in the league.
The runners unanimously concluded the course was tough: tough on the feet, balance and head due to some stretches feeling endless. And the supporters counted their blessing it was dry and warm twice in a row. Thoughts now turn to Warley Woods where those who love the climbs can play to their strengths and see if Stratford might build on its current overall position of third in the league.