Chichester’s cross-country runners started their 2019 campaign in fine style in the county championships at Bexhill.
They won a number of team and individual medals and had a host of runners putting themselves in line for Sussex selection for the National Inter-Counties at Loughborough in March.
On the normally boggy Little Common course, conditions this year were the driest in living memory, making the races a test of speed as well as stamina.
Chichester’s squad of more than 40 runners kept up the club’s fine tradition in the event and finished in third place overall based on team positions across the nine races.
Only Brighton & Hove and Crawley were ahead and Chichester cemented their place ahead of Horsham, Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton Phoenix and Worthing plus a dozen other clubs in action.
After the day started with the two under-11 non championship races in while Millie Isitt flew the flag for Chichester, the under-13s got the championships under way.
For the girls, three of the club’s under-11s from the autumn were able to run for the under-13s for the first time and took the opportunity in style, all scoring for the club’s A team, who were rewarded with fifth place in the team standings, a fine achievement as all three girls have two more years in the same age group.
Laila Hellyer had the run of the day to finish eighth, followed by Florence Ingram in 20th and Lillie Hellyer 22nd. Just behind in 25th, Izzy Isitt led home her fellow B team members Amelie McGurk in 31st and Gemma Appleton in 46th for eighth place – second B team behind Brighton.
For the boys, Harvey McGuiness continued his good recent form to finish fifth, the first Chichester athlete to secure automatic Sussex selection.
McGuiness was always up with the leading group and finished just seven seconds behind the winner in a race where the top 20 were separated by less than a minute.
Fionn O’Murchu was in the mix for much of the race and finished 13th. Logan Cooper ran well in 25th giving the team fourth place out of a record 19 teams.
Reserves Josh Dunne and Sam Tonks showed promise for the future in 40th and 41st – both will be in the same age group next year.
Chichester’s under-15 girls were only able to field three athletes but did well to finish as sixth team. Olivia Toms was the only runner brave enough to follow the fast start of national champion Beth Cook in the early stages and was rewarded with a top-five place and Sussex selection.
Nicole Boltwood had her best run of the season in 17th while Emily Weymouth battled well for 36th.
The club’s quartet in the boys’ under-15 race packed well to be separated by only a minute with Archie Sadler 20th followed by Gabryel White in 27th and Toby Payne 31st, with reserve Angus Matthews 32nd in his first race for the club.
Under-17s and under-20s
Chichester’s under-17s and under-20s tasted success in all four races, but with the women it was a question of individual honours while the men picked up team awards.
Maggie King was the club’s only runner in the under-17 women’s event, breaking a run of six consecutive years of team success in this age group. King justified her decision to run by clinching a Sussex call-up in fifth place.
Alice Cox-Rusbridge had double cause to compete – she was running for an individual place in her under-20 age group and was a vital part of the club’s senior team.
Always in the top 20 overall in the senior race, Cox-Rusbridge was delighted to achieve the club’s top position of the day in finishing under-20 runner-up to schools international Almi Nerurkar.
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Chichester’s men were delighted to emerge with team medals in both the under-17 and under-20 races, with both contests of a high standard.
Ned Potter led the under-17s home in sixth place closely followed by Liam Dunne, last year’s under-15 champion, in eighth, both runners less than half a minute outside the top three.
Harry Sage battled well in 22nd and was rewarded by clinching team bronze, edging Brighton into fourth. Both Potter and Dunne will be in the frame for Sussex selection but will have to wait to see if they have made the cut.
It was a similar scenario for Chichester in the under-20 race where the runners compete alongside the senior men but finish after 8k rather than the 12k.
Leo Stallard, Ben Morton and Ben Collins all started in the top ten under-20s with Brodie Keates running a more conservative race in the next pack.
With only the Brighton winner running clear, the rest of the under-20s were tightly bunched with Stallard keeping his form well to finish seventh and Morton a place further back in eighth, with Collins 11th and Keates 16th.
The team total for the top three of 26 points was good enough for third, just eight behind winners Brighton.
Senior men and women
For the Sussex championships, the senior men run before the women and Chichester’s squad of nine athletes all performed with credit in a very competitive field, resulting in a well-deserved sixth team place.
James Baker took advantage of the extra distance from a normal 8k league fixture and ran a well-judged race to steadily make his way through the field to finish just outside the top ten in 12th place and add to his remarkable record of being the club’s first man home.
Will Boutwood was pleased to be back after injury and battled well in 21st as the club’s second scorer.
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Chichester were indebted to their veteran ranks to enable them to finish as high as they did with Simon Dunne, the third member of his family in action, 50th, Justin Eggins 54th, Jim Garland 59th and Stephen Davy in 70th completing the six-man scoring for 266 points.
The club’s three reserves performed with credit with Jason Boswell 72nd, Richard Pullen 82nd and Paul Stallard 89th.
The final race of the day, the combined senior and under-20 women’s race, started with high hopes for a team medal but these were dashed within a couple of minutes.
Leeds University student Beth Garland had finished third last year and was looking to go one better with only Nicole Taylor, a Sussex-based Tonbridge athlete, having shown better winter form. Alas, Garland was one of a handful of athletes to fall victim to a narrow heavily-rooted section of the course and badly turned her ankle of the opening lap and was unable to continue.
It was left to Alice Cox-Rusbridge to lead the team home in a fine 18th place despite still being an under-20, with veteran Jane Harrop an excellent 26th and Birmingham University student Rose Ellis a brave 38th after having her training interrupted by injury.
Chichester’s only other athlete in the race, veteran Sue Baker, had only intended to run as reserve but after Garland’s injury was called into the team scores and justified her decision to run by bringing the team home in eighth place, not as high as they had hoped for but a top-ten placing all the same.