Chichester cross-country crew in flying form at Bexhill

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THE third round of the Sussex Cross Country League was held at Bexhill, a change from its usual January date to help ease fixture congestion after Christmas.

The move seemed to suit many of the in-form Sussex athletes, including the Chichester squad, who confirmed their potential medal placings before the final fixture at Lancing Manor in February.

Star of the day was Rose Ellis, who gained her first-ever league victory in the under-15 girls’ race with an assured run, leaving her main rival from home club Hastings in her wake to win by ten seconds.

Equally impressive were team members Tara Bage in fourth and Saskia Gardam in sixth to beat reigning league champions by a single point and narrow their overall lead to just four points.

Such is the dominance of these two teams, they have opened up an unbridgeable gap of 63 points to Brighton & Hove in third.

In the same age group, Chichester’s boys gave a good account of themselves with Casey Keates leading them home in a fine third place with good packing from Jake Pillans in ninth and Harry Lyne in 12th with reserve Sam Reading 25th. Tying with league leaders Lewes with 24 points on the day, Chichester still have a six-point gap to make up if they are going to win their first-ever league title at this age group.

However a 40-point gap to third place should mean these two clubs are safe to fight it out for gold and silver.

Another team who have exceeded the club’s expectations are the newly-promoted senior women’s squad, who have cemented their place in the top three in division one.

With only favourites Arena 80 and Brighton & Hove ahead of them, Chichester’s blend of youth and experience has provided a highly-effective combination.

This was evident than at Bexhill when an inspired Rosie Hiles led the squad home in third place followed by top veteran Jane Harrop in ninth and two under-17s, Georgina Warner in 18th and a close third in her category and Hannah Croad bringing the team home in 35th.

With another top-three placing on the day, Chichester have a clear gap of more than 50 points to fourth-placed Hailsham in the overall standings to give them on outstanding chance of the club’s first team medals in division one of the women’s league.

The senior men’s squad have had to rely heavily on their over-50s and over-60s this season and look like falling down another division into the third tier unless they can pull something out of the bag in the final race.

The quartet on duty at Bexhill were led home by Nick Palmer in 106th followed by over-60 Martin Miller in 148th, Dave Reading (over-50) 152nd and John Betts (over-60) 156th.

The other three age groups featured incomplete teams for Chichester but saw fine individual runs with Harry Leleu continuing his superb form with another second place in the under-17 men’s race and Ben Collins ending a good seventh in the under-13 boys’ race with team-mate Brodie Keates in 17th.

Going back to the start of the programme, Chloe Croad flew the flag for Chichester with a 25th place in the under-13 girls’ race.

Just over two weeks remain before one of the highlights of the season with the Sussex cross-country championships at Stanmer Park, Brighton, on Sunday, January 6.

Chichester will aim to take away individual and team medals in many of the nine races and will be eager to once again challenge for the county team shield which goes to the top Sussex club on the day.

PHIL BAKER