West Midlands Young Athletes Cross Country League.
Report – Rachel Stevens
‘Wait, what? It looked flat on the map!’ was the irked reaction of one of Stratford’s younger newcomers to Warley Woods. So cometh the hills. To add to the trepidation, it was the bleakest of days for the third meet of the WMYACCL 22/23 season. Whilst for some it appeared a foreboding lung-buster, for others it was a welcome return to their favourite course or, as one of our more seasoned members put it, to ‘proper cross-country.’
The U17 Women kicked off the day with a steeply banked 200m dash across the hill to the first of many climbs. Maisie-Joy Spriggs (9th/18:30) played perfectly to her strengths to finish inside the top ten, followed by an ‘over the moon’ Abbi Cooper who, with utter determination, powered up the final 100m and pipped a competitor on the line for her highest placing of the season (14th/19:06). Then, with strong and steadfast runs and also impressing with their highest finishes this season were Tilly Campbell (37th/24:33) and Abigail Skinner (39th/25:38). Unfortunately, Niamh Hillard was forced to pull-up due to illness. In fact, the day saw a number of athletes across all clubs and age-groups hoping to have fought off their winter coughs and sneezes but succumbing in one way or another – Warley Woods took no prisoners.
Whilst she was missed, a special note of congratulations must go to Olivia Robinson who competed in the Gloucestershire Schools Cross Country Competition and won a brilliant bronze medal. An awesome achievement!
At the mid-way point of the WMYACCL, the Stratford ladies lie in third.
Next up were our U11 boys. Toby Ledgard (28th/07:55), seemingly having drunk rocket fuel for breakfast, powered his way at the start to finish inside the top thirty for the first time this season. After a steadier start, Eli Ford’s training on the Welcombe Hills paid dividends as he doggedly picked off, not one or two, but five athletes on that exhausting final 100m to finish second for Stratford (33rd/08:04). Then just three seconds later, it was debut runner Tom Yates with a terrific first performance in at 37th (08:07) – well inside the average time for the field. Next was Toby Wilkinson (89th/09:37) running steadfastly in his first race of the season and then Tyler Li (93rd/09:52) beating his previous best placing by a noteworthy ten spots.
After improved performances all round, the U11 boys climb up the league to ninth spot.
From the youngest to our oldest lads. The U17 Men’s race was dominated by Alex Adams (1st/16:41) who seemingly cruised his way round to win the race utterly comfortably by a huge 56 second margin In stark contrast and despite having the advantage of short-cuts, his mother’s attempts at photographing the event were foiled by her son’s speed and Emily Adams finished exhausted. It’s not often you hear a parent shout, ‘Will someone please tell that son of mine to slow down!’
Second in for Stratford was the impressively calm Milo Cullimore (19:21) who cleverly picked his way up the pack to finish in 24th position equalling his best performance this season. Racking up another solid and well-paced performance was Jaicob Ford (27th/ 19:37) who was challenged all the way by the superb run of Henry Wheeler (28th/19:39). To boot, Henry improved nine places up the finishing board.
Adding to the success of the Men’s efforts was Taylor Stubbins who also competed in the Gloucestershire Schools event, taking gold to become the Gloucestershire Schools Senior Cross Country Champion. Congratulations, Taylor!
Meanwhile, the U17 Men maintain their fifth position in the league.
In the largest pack of the day, it was yet another fabulous fight between two of our U11 girls: Amelie Marshall (25th) and, this time, Maggie Silvers (27th). Both kicked home in exactly 08:29 but it was Amelie who pipped Maggie over the line. Jasmine Mothershaw (32nd/08:35) was not far off after a terrific run to become the third Stratford girl home. Then Ruby Whyman Bean (108th/11:08) ran solidly to progress one place up on Newbold Revel; and Layla Sparrow (109th/11:30) improved by a pleasing five spaces.
The Stratford U11 girls are currently in seventh position.
In the largest team of the day and fielding an impressive eleven runners, it was progress abound for the U15 boys. Heading the team’s news was the stupendous run of Will Mayes (10th/12:23) who not only took top slot in the team but broke into that elusive top ten for the first time this season – a well-deserved double whammy!
Close behind, the two Lambert brothers were neck- a-neck the entire course. In an agonisingly close charge for second Stratford slot, they gave their poor mum the impossible choice of whom to will over the line but for the first time this season, it was Sam (13th/12:28) who proved the victor over Zak (14th/12:29). However, he generously acknowledged Zak had caught the dreaded lurgy in the week and promised to go easy with his bragging rights.
It was great running and great news for Tom Fisher too as he improved by four places to break into the top twenty (18th/12:49). Not to be out-done, James Day (13:03) had another impressive run to finish up three spots with a season’s best place of 22nd. Then came a strong Charlie Clayton (38th/13:57), jumping up fourteen places and a mere three seconds later was James Mayes (33rd/13:45) up fifteen places on Newbold Revel. Similarly, a focussed run from Luca De Freitas Pires (13:57) saw him leap twenty-one places to 38th.
In the most day’s most superlative demonstration of grit and vigour was the ascent of Josh Harrison (41st/14:03) on that gruelling final 100m: he simply powered past his competitors to finish fifteen places higher than his next best placement. Seb Hillard was in next (58th/15:02); he too ran off the back of a week of illness and demonstrated great commitment to getting the job done under trying conditions. Rounding off the U15’s progress was a focussed Ewan Sparrow finishing in a season’s best 68th in 17:54.
The U15 boys maintain a sterling second position in the league at the mid-point mark.
In the U13 girls’ race, Marijke Tear-Verweij yet again showed her magnificent running prowess as she challenged for top slot for much of the first half of the race. After the longer second lap, she finished fourth but, phenomenally, remains in overall equal second in the league – a position bettered by but one other member of the club!
Lois Ford, with her steadfast focus and strong running style, yet again put in another stellar performance. Moreover, she goes into Match 4 in overall tenth position. This time third Stratford slot went to Portia Nabney (24th/12:30) who made light work of the hills and looked as strong as an ox as she approached the line to finish in her highest placement this season.
A determined Ava Sheppard (32nd/ 12:34) was the fourth Stratford girl home, followed by Amelia Peeke (36th/13:02) who, match on match, never fails to finish way inside the race average time.
Next in were the reliable Rachel Sparrow (57th/14:07) performing well to maintain her team position of sixth and the young Georgia Sharpe (73rd/14:53) also performing consistently in team seventh.
Currently, the U13 girls lie in overall third position.
To give some perspective to the accomplishment of the U13 boys, they have not only accrued the highest number of match points from a race across all age-groups and across all clubs this season, but they have done so for two consecutive fixtures. Whilst they uncannily totalled 974 points twice in a row, the specifics of the sums, nevertheless, read differently.
This time there were four Stratford vests in the top five positions, led home by the unassuming yet awesomely athletic Arthur Williamson (2nd/10:13). It was quite a sight to see Arthur release his potential and stride magnificently home to take overall second place in only his second cross-country race for Stratford.
Next up and as if to deliberately defy his mum’s earlier assertion that his ascending skills outshine his descending skills, Aran Cooper (10:18) flew down the final hill to pass the odd competitor. Having paced himself to perfection, he finished a season’s best and inched up a place to third on the finishing board.
Next Stratford lad in and new to hill-running was Will Hovell (4th/10:22) who needed to quickly learn the demands of running uphill and the quirks of running downhill. Then continuing the successful swathe of yellow was the steely stride of Joel Ledgard (5th/10:28) who worked his socks off throughout to finish yet again in one of the coveted top five positions.
Next it was Kipp Stevens who, generating a final burst of uphill acceleration, was delighted to discover he had not only conquered his finishing demons but had become fifth Stratford lad home thus contributing for the first time to his team’s haul of points (17th/11:14).
Within the blink of an eye it was Sam Plumb (18th/11:16) and, despite the after-effects of recent illness and with the untimely misfortune of a stitch from the off, he demonstrated impeccable resilience and mental fortitude to race as well as he did. Thereafter was Arthur Mansbridge (29th/11:48) who also ran with commitment, assurance, and focus and rounding off the team was Toby Spriggs (74th/14:23) showing improved determination to race well and was deservedly pleased with his performance.
Taking overall first position for the third consecutive match, the U11 boys team stretches its lead ever further away from its rivals.
No pressure, boys!
In defiance of the dropping temperature, the U15 girls finished the day’s racing on a team high with almost every girl having improved their finishing position. Annie Silvers (18th/14:53) ran superbly and broke into the top twenty and was soon followed by Warley Woods super-fan, Martha Peters (26th/15:25). Embracing the hills, Martha finished nine places on her next best finish. Knocking seven spots off her best finish, an invigorated Bo Algate (31st/16:05) made light work of that final assent to cross the line as Stratford’s third girl in. Before the minute was up, it was the solid performance of Tessa Parkin in fourth for the team (44th/ 16:51).
Thereafter, came the improved performances of Harriet Black (49th/17:27) jumping up an impressive fourteen places from Walsall Arboretum and Hannah Wilkinson (52nd/17:37) progressing by a pleasing twelve places on Newbold Revel. Super swimmer Charlotte Skinner placed 57th (18:23), jumping up ten places on her previous race and Brooke Rossney (18:52) rounded off the improvements placing twelve places above her previous best.
Overall, the U15 girls maintain their fifth position in the league.
Our young athletes had somewhat mixed feelings about Warley Woods with a few runners glad to see the back of the hills if not on the opening lap then certainly on the final one. But the majority were sad to say farewell to their favourite course because of the challenge and sense of achievement it reliably provides.
As we move to the penultimate match of the series at Pingles Stadium, SUAAC sits in third place with a good gap between themselves and fourth placed rivals Bromsgrove and Redditch.
Just the County Champs and Christmas to squeeze in between, then.