A DAZZLING performance from Stratford Athletic Club’s juniors lit up the natural amphitheatre of Warley Woods for the second match of the season in the West Midland Young Athletes’ Cross Country League in Smethwick.
A club record 65 junior athletes competed in Stratford colours, earning the team 5,846 points on the day as they were narrowly edged into fourth place by a mere seven points by Sutton Coldfield AC, but Stratford remain third in the league.
The U17 women kicked off the day’s racing. Imogen Sheppard (13th, 19.29) used her speed well in the early stages and was in seventh place before the first uphill climb, around eight places ahead of Emily Field (14th, 19.32) who closed the gap, only to slip and fall on the steep uphill climb and then did well to get back on terms as both team-mates raced each other to good top 15 finishes.
Both Daisy Musk (30th, 20.58), and Edie Hutchinson (50th, 23.28) worked their way through the field, gaining a number of places, and therefore precious points, over the 4km to ensure the U17 women’s team finished sixth and are fifth overall after two matches.
Just under 150 U11 boys race stepped up to the start line before their 1.6km race. Among them was Ed Twyman (103rd, 9.20) making his debut for Stratford. The team was led home by Tom Rowley (16th, 7.49), with Hugh Markham (35th, 8.05) and Seb Hillard (36th, 8.05) both improving significantly on the markers they laid down in the first race of the season.
James Day (56th, 8.27), Henry Wheeler (63rd, 8.33) Flynn Dathan (64th, 8.37) and Jake Deaner (66th, 8.39) continued their intra-club rivalry, racing each other closely, while Alex McMillan (86th, 8.59) did well to recover from a fall early on.
Ollie Hemming (90th, 9.02) and Harry Francioni (100th, 9.17) both made improvements compared to the first race of the season. The U11 boys’ team finished fifth, but strangely fall to seventh in the overall standings.
Unfortunately, due to illness and a squad of less depth compared to other age groups, there was a gap in the U17 men’s team so around 130 points were lost.
Archie Musk (61st, 23.04) and Adam Bayliss (62nd, 23.29) both battled hard to earn precious points for the club. The U17 men’s team finished 15th and fell to 13th overall from ninth position in the opening match.
Fifteen U11 girls represented Stratford, with two making their cross country debut. Olivia Hawkyard (83rd, 10.00) and Emilie Ross (118th, 11.01) both put in good races and Maddie Linfoot (10th, 8.16) led the team home, completing her second top ten finish in a row.
Niamh Hillard (22nd, 8.30), continues to impress, while Lucy Thomas (31st, 8.45) and Tessa Parkin (44th, 8.57) both enjoyed the tougher conditions. Maisie-Joy Spriggs (45th, 9.00), experimented with a sprint start and led the field before the uphill turn, but unfortunately it proved perhaps too fast as she struggled to maintain her form in the latter stages.
Scarlett Richardson (50th, 9.12), Ruby Edwards (54th, 9.19), Tilly Campbell (70th, 9.38), Harriet Black (71th, 9.40), Emma Francioni (77th, 9.56), Katie Pridham (92nd, 10.16), Ella Peeke (94th, 10.19) and Marie-Claire Hunter (106th, 10.35) all ran well in continuing their cross country journeys to great effect. The depth and talent of the U11 girls’ team secured fourth place and they remain third overall.
The U15 boys’ team was boosted by a stunning debut from Adam Farrow (23rd, 13.45) who showed cross country running is another string to his impressive sporting bow by leading the team home, overtaking many in the closing stages.
Will Crowfoot (27th, 13.56) and Tom Crowfoot (28th, 13.56) were welcome returns to the team as they both produced strong, inseparable, season debuts.
Cameron Black (56th, 15.03) won a superb battle involving Fin Hutchinson (59th, 15.17) and Harry Gravelsons (61st, 15.21), both of whom continue to impress on how much their cross country running has improved.
Cameron Thomas (65th, 15.31) and Ned Campbell (73rd, 15.48) continued their consistent running, while Joel Watson (68th, 15.36) showed improved form from the first race. Solid racing from Sean Mata (74th, 16.13) and Oliver Adams (81st, 16.52) completed the team and the strong collective performance enabled the U15 boys to finish sixth and improve to seventh in the overall standings.
The U13 girls’ team was once again led home by the ever-improving Ellie Deaner (2nd, 11.36). It was a pleasure to see Ellie make a strong start just inside the top ten and then gradually make her way past her competitors, using her strength up the hills and her speed down them to stay with the top four and then make her move over the closing stages to secure second place – her best finish in the league.
The sunlight appeared to gleam off from the long pink stocks of Leah Bowen (20th, 12.22), echoing her sparkling performance as she started and finished strongly, just ahead of Tulah Searle (23rd, 12.29) who made a percentage improvement compared to her first race of the season.
Molly Bullock (47th, 13.05), Olivia Robinson (81st, 13.51) and Georgia Pridham (125th, 16.19) all ran well to complete a fine team effort which helped them finish fourth, but they fell to fifth place overall by just a single point from Tipton Harriers.
Excitement mounted from the new Stratford AC team tent as the U13 boys stepped up to the start line and the race did not disappoint. Alex Adams (1st, 9.52) claimed his seventh straight league victory in his now customary steady style, putting significant distance ahead of Henry Faizey (Solihull & Small Heath) after the first small lap.
Adam Taylor (19th, 10.56) was delighted with his top 20 finish, with Oscar Fines-Allin (46th, 11.43) showing really encouraging form. Caleb Spriggs (50th, 11.53), Christopher Hunt (52nd, 11.53), Theo Skirvin (55th, 10.25), Alfie Organ (55th, 10.25) and Sam Bloomfield (99th, 15.42) all worked hard, as did Louis Kendrick (56th, 12.08), who started out in front in the early stages, but unfortunately struggled with his breathing and bravely kept going until the finish. The U13 boys’ team finished sixth, which they also are overall.
The last race of the day was the U15 girls and Georgie Campbell (1st, 13.53) showed her strength and determination in what was an absolutely enthralling race.
Georgie was beaten by Ella Semple (Wolverhampton & Bilston) in the first race of the season and both battled hard over the undulating 3.2km as the lead changed hands numerous times.
Ultimately though, Georgie’s strength up the hills trumped Ella’s speed on the flat, reversing the result of the first leg, meaning they are now joint top in the individual rankings.
Ellen Taylor (8th, 14.42) continues to reap the rewards of her hard training, gaining her first top ten finish in this age group. Kate Dufty (22nd, 15.18) and Ellie Bryan (43rd, 16.23) found the undulating course a little more of challenge and the latter was almost caught by a strong finishing Hope Lawton (45th, 16.28).
There was no need for pre-race nerves for Gigi Thomas (62nd, 17.07) who equipped herself very well on her debut for the club. Charlotte Gravelsons (77th, 17.57) picked up two places in the finishing straight to complete the U15 girls’ team which finished fourth, but maintain second place overall.
The next fixture is at Perry Park in Birmingham in December, when a full Stratford AC junior team have every chance to keep hold of their current third placed position.
Report courtesy of Brian Gravelsons.