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Thursday 14 February 2013 Updated: 14/02 16:09
STRATFORD AC’s men’s and women’s cross country teams had a very successful day at Pittville Park in Cheltenham in the fourth and final fixture of the league season.
There were many great performances and some well-deserved celebrations as a title was won in dramatic style.
In the Midland Women’s League, Stratford won the Masters competition in thrilling fashion, holding off Wolverhampton & Bilston AC by just four points.
The senior women were 8th on the day and 5th overall, behind four of the biggest clubs in the Midlands - Birmingham University, Birchfield Harriers, Loughborough University and Coventry Godiva Harriers.
This was the club’s best ever result and is richly deserved.
Zoe Chandler was Stratford AC’s highest placed finisher in three of the four races.
At Pittville Park she ran her most impressive race of the winter, looking completely relaxed throughout the two laps and making a mockery of the muddy conditions to finish tenth and second best junior over the four races.
It capped a fantastic season for Chandler who is growing in confidence and ability with each race.
Dani Rasguaski (26th, 24.39) won the bronze medal in the Masters competition and showed wonderful composure in all four events, working her way through the pack after her trademark steady start.
The second Masters runner for Stratford was Sarah Wheeler (44th, 25.47). She found the going tough but gave further evidence of her level-headed approach and ran one of her best races.
She maintained focus on the runners ahead of her and, despite not enjoying the soft ground, ran really strongly in the final mile.
Wheeler is in great form going into the road-racing season.
Club stalwart and fantastic all-round athlete Emma Bexson (61st, 26.56) has run extremely well this year and once again was third home for the Masters team.
Team captain Sarah Bland (62nd, 26.57) ran primarily to ensure there were sufficient runners to make up a Masters team in case of injury, while Vanessa Crookes (114th, 30.40) once again showed what amazing shape she is in even with minimal training.
Half-an-hour after the drama of the women’s race, the men lined-up for the last race of the Birmingham Cross Country League season.
The team have had another solid season in Division Two and finishing 10th in such a competitive league is a smashing result.
Some of the club’s fastest cross country runners have not featured at all this season and this makes the achievement of those who have pulled on the yellow and black vest even more impressive.
Of the 41 to have represented the club in the league, seven have been ever-present.
First home was Rob Minton (29th, 33.52) who relished the course which was ideal for showing off his ability to handle downhill sections, muddy conditions and tight turns.
This race was a real breakthrough for 19-year-old Josh Newman (60th, 35.34) who has run three times for the senior team and progressing each time.
He spent much of the first two of the three lap race on the shoulder of Danny Tolhurst (70th, 36.02) and judged when to push on perfectly.
With two miles remaining, Newman sensed the time was ripe for an injection of pace and within 400 yards had passed five rivals and looked full of running. Newman will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2013/14 season.
In the four races this season, Andy Cockerill (86th, 36.56) finished 82nd, 92nd, 87th and 86th which gives a clear representation of his consistency.
This latest performance was sensibly paced and strong in every department.
Fifth scorer was birthday boy Wayne Vickers (92nd, 37.18) who would have been happy with an extra few laps.
Haydn Davies (110th, 37.58) knew the terrain well from previous races and had no significant problems negotiating the taxing, if fairly flat course.
The vastly experienced Malcolm Bowyer (112nd, 38.02) put in a very tasty performance and was even able to entertain spectators with his own brand of a sprint finish.
Team management was over the moon to see Neil Wicks (118th, 38.10) back in a Stratford vest for his first race of the season following an Achilles tendon injury.
Another of the day’s sparkling performances came from Alan Coley-Smith (120th, 38.30) who enjoyed his best run of the season by a country mile which was ideal preparartion for the triathlon season.
Not far behind behind were Patrick Taylor (123rd, 38.38) and James Deacon (128th, 39.06) who continue to run really well.
Andrew Speechley (141st, 39.51) is also gearing up for the triathlon season and must be delighted with his three cross country league races during the past few months.
Stephan Meier (151st, 40.26) has appeared in all four of the league events, plus the County and Midland Championships, and until this race had really enjoyed the challenges, while for Matt Lyness (154th, 40.45) the race went as well as he expected.
Stratford’s next three men were covered by just 42 seconds with Mike Sheppard (161st, 41.34) just heading Paul Hawkins (162nd, 41.43) and David Smyth (168th, 42.06).
They were followed by Mike Barrie (191st, 45.42), Andy Turner (192nd, 45.46), David Jones (194th, 46.03) and Luke Watkins (200th, 47.18).
The A-team finished 13th on the day and ended the season 10th in the table out of 17 teams. The B-team were 5th at Cheltenham and 4th out of 11 for the season.
Rob Minton finished 30th in the Divison Two table based on the best three races of each runner’s season, while Jack McMullen was 9th in the junior rankings with Josh Newman an impressive 18th.
All the hard work Sarah Bland and Paul Hawkins have put in over the autumn and winter months has created a committed, determined and spirited group of runners who have gained well-deserved success in good-humoured and sportsmanlike fashion.
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