The saturated ground of recent years was nowhere to be seen at this year’s Sussex County Cross Country Championships at Bexhill.
Conditions saw runners speed over the dry ground in conditions normally associated with the beginning of the season in October.
This did not prevent from Chichester from returning with another crop of medals, both individual and team, and emerge yet again as one of the strongest all-round middle-distance clubs in the county.
Under 17 men and women
In the middle of the four-hour 11-race programme, Chichester had their most profitable spell with both the men’s and women’s under-17 squads rising to the occasion.
Both teams head the Sussex League rankings and for the men, especially, this was a chance to complete stage two of a Sussex clean sweep, having already won the cross country relays at Goodwood in September.
From the start a group of eight runners decided to follow the early fast pace set by Chichester’s Will Broom and a couple of his main Hastings rivals.
Leo Stallard also tagged on to the leaders while Luke Campbell, Brodie Keates and Charlie Benson followed in the next group.
Gradually the leading pack were whittled down to Broom and Magorrian of Hastings, who had been on fine form early in the season and started the race as narrow favourite.
The pair could not be separated going up the final hill and it was only on the long, flat run-in to the finish that the Hastings athletes pulled away to win by just three seconds from Broom.
Stallard emerged in fifth after a fine run and with both Hastings and Chichester having two scorers in the top five, all eyes were on the third and final scorer.
Campbell broke away from the chasers to cross the line in fifth and relegate his Hastings rival to ninth to give Chichester the win by a single point. A battling run by Keates saw him finish 14th, with Benson also providing good back-up in 24th.
In the women’s race run over the same distance of 5k, a group of four runners decided to make the pace strong from the gun, led by eventual winner Almi Nerurkar.
Chichester’s group of five runners wisely decided to stay in the next group, a decision which paid off as the race unfolded.
Grace Wills settled into sixth place with Alice Cox-Rusbridge tracking hear team mate in seventh and the surprise member of the team, newcomer Imogen Matthews pulling clear of her rivals in eighth.
Meanwhile Beth Brown and Florence Smith were also in the top 15 to give good support to the leading trio.
The positions of Wills, Cox-Rusbridge and Matthews remained unchanged over the second half of the course to give Chichester their three scorers in the top eight and it just remained to see whether Brighton Phoenix could finish inside 16th place.
In the event a 13th spot was enough to give the Brighton squad the gold medals with Chichester bravely just three points behind. With Brown in 12th and Smith 15th, Chichester did field the strongest squad in depth on the day.
The junior races began with success for Chichester in the opening race of the programme with Fionn O’Murchu winning a bronze medal in the under-11 boys’ race, just pipped by two local Hastings runners with just 6 seconds separating the three.
Marcus Bone was 33rd in the same race while Grace Bishop was 22nd in the girls’ race over the same distance of 2,000m.
Chichester’s under-13 girls have been improving all season and hoped they were in a fight for bronze team medals behind Brighton & Hove and Eastbourne-based Bodyworks, led by Bethany Cook who has had an unbeaten record in the South of England so far this season.
In the end the whole seven-athlete squad had their best runs of the season by were just four points off the medals.
Nicole Boltwood led Chichester home for the first time in 12th place closely followed by Nina Moranne in 14th while Isobel Buckler just outsprinted twin sister Eva for the third scoring place in 21st. Cerys Dickinson and Hannah Carmichael finished just seconds apart in 30th and 31st with Rose Potter 37th.
Archie Sadler continued his good season with 16th in a very close boys’ race, less than 50 seconds behind the winner. Douglas Smith was 20 seconds further back in 23rd while Tom Hartley just got the better of James Bullard for the third scoring place with the two boys 42nd and 44th.
It was a question of what might have been for Chichester under-15 boys and girls teams as both had very real chances of top-three team placings before the event.
Unfortunately the boys were without Liam Dunne, out with a slight muscle strain, and it was left to Alex Mani to get into the leading group on his own for Chichester.
Mani continued his impressive season with a fourth place, ensuring automatic qualification for the Sussex squad in the national inter-counties in March. Behind him Ned Potter and JJ Staples were next in line and both scored well in 19th and 23rd, just six points outside the medallists.
Showing good depth in this age group, Jack Dean was 28th, Louis Buckler 31st and Gilbert Jones 38th with Johnny Simmonds 39th.
Where the boys knew they were weaker than expected before the race, misfortune befell Chichester’s under-15s during the race with Olivia Wiseman being forced to retire when well placed.
At that point Chichester were challenging for top spot but it was left to Maggie King to lead the club home in 12th spot with Hannah Anwyl 18th, Caitlin Brown 22nd and Sophie Lambourne 24th.
The senior men’s race saw Chichester field two complete teams plus a reserve. Former South of England champion Jon Pepper from Brighton Phoenix was soon at the head of the field and as usual ensured the pace was kept fast for the 12k course.
Slotting easily into the top ten was James Baker in his 22nd year in the senior age group, followed for Chichester by Will Boutwood, who is exactly half Bakers age at 20, and showing great improvement since starting his college course at St Mary’s in Twickenham.
Baker hung on the top group which numbered just five at halfway and distanced himself from the chasing pack to finish fifth for automatic selection for the Sussex championships, less than a minute behind the winner after 36 minutes-plus of running.
Boutwood was sticking to his guns in his first championship race as a senior and was delighted to finish 19th. Conrad Meagher was just over a minute further back in 32nd with top over-50 Jim Garland still able to mix it with the seniors in 53rd, followed by improving Graham Woodward in 57th.
There was a fight to the line for the final sixth scoring place in the A team with Justin Eggins getting the better of John Bullard in 74th place. Bullard’s 75th was followed by Gary Williams 89th, Richard Pullen 90th, David Pike 95th, Dave Reading 102nd and Mike Moorcroft 103rd with Tom Blaylock completing Chichester’s squad in 104th.
The A team six-man total of 240 points as good enough for 76th while the B team settled for 12th with 554.
The senior women ran with the under-20s and two under-20s led the club home. Rose Ellis and Charlotte Reading showed good form in finishing 18th and 34th, with Ellis picking up an individual bronze medal in the under-20 category with Reading sixth.
Chichester University student Emma Hughes was next home in 42nd with veteran Helen Dean showing her best form of the season to finish 48th for a team total of 142 points and seventh place.
* In a week’s time, Chichester’s veterans head to Lancing Manor for the Sussex Masters Championships with the club having strong contenders in many of the men’s and women’s age groups.
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