Ian Kennedy reports on the Dorset team in Liverpool
For the county’s best young cross-country runners the season concludes with the English Schools Cross-Country Championships. Although we weren’t to know it at the time, this looks set to be the last weekend with any big sporting events taking place for a while. This year’s championships took place at Sefton Park, Liverpool. The coach left midday Friday from QE School in Wimborne, with the team staying overnight at the Premier Inn at Liverpool North.
We arrived at Sefton Park in good time to walk the course, it was wet and boggy in some places and there were some pinch-points. For March, there was little wind and it was a surprisingly temperate day (at one point we had a bumble bee in the team tent).
The meeting opened with the Intermediate Girls race, in recent years this has been an age-group where Dorset have fielded strong teams … this year was to be no exception. It was the race that featured the highest-placed individual Dorset girl in WAC’s Emily Shaw who was 11th. In each race our first six finishers would contribute to the overall team score. Our next home were Emily Parker and Emilie Castagna, they were separated by a single place and a single second. WAC’s Marianna Sawyer was next, a terrific performance as she had some health concerns the previous weekend. Fifth was Issie Jones, the dark horse who was making a debut at this level, with Ashia Wilson claiming the final scoring place. The team was completed by Izzie Rabjohns and WAC’s Sarah Graham, with Sarah still patched up, but recovering well, from the serious spiking she suffered at the Inter-Counties Championships only the previous weekend. The races at Liverpool featured up to 44 teams, if based on population size only Dorset could be expected to be placed around 34th. All the Dorset Junior and Intermediate teams exceeded that mark, and indeed it was the Inter Girls who did best of all coming 20th.
Inter Girls (335 finishers) – Dorset 20th team
11 – Emily Shaw (Bryanston) – 12:58
81 – Emily Parker (Talbot Heath) – 13:46
82 – Emilie Castagna (BSG) – 13:47
112 – Marianna Sawyer (Sherborne Girls) – 14:03
152 – Issie Jones (Parkstone) – 14:22
235 – Ashia Wilson (BSG) – 14:53
241 – Izzie Rabjohns (Parkstone) – 14:55
291 – Sarah Graham (QE Wimborne) – 15:19
The Junior Boys race produced Dorset’s only podium finisher. It was great to see Will Rabjohns back to his best claiming a fine third place finish. In normal times Will’s reward would have been selection for the English Schools team in the Schools International Athletics Board (SIAB) Home International. This meeting takes place on the Saturday after the English Schools Championships so would have been taking place in Falkirk on 21 March. Unfortunately the SIAB meeting had already fallen victim to the coronavirus and we knew prior to racing that this time around the top runners at the English Schools Championships would not be pulling on international vests in Scotland. It was hard luck on Will but these opportunities will be there next year. Archie Coates was another who had a fine run, just outside the top 20 (indeed only Will and Emily Shaw recorded higher finishing positions for Dorset all day. Oscar Ewen Matthews has had an excellent season and he was great value once again to be our next runner home. Three relative novices at this level really impressed to claim the remaining team points. Jonny Styrin was the first of these, Sir John Colfox School in Bridport have seen a renaissance at schools team XC events this season, including impressive performances in the English Schools Cross Country Cup and Jonny has made an important contribution. He did a terrific job in Liverpool. Next was WAC’s Jack Williams. Jack worked his way forward from No. 8 in the pen. The final team scorer was Alex Jones. Completing the team were Arief McKenna and Tristan Green. The team came 22nd, only our Intermediate Girls out-performed them.
Junior Boys (334 finishers) – 22nd team
3 – Will Rabjohns (QE Wimborne) – 14:30
21 – Archie Coates (Leweston) – 15:13
131 – Oscar Ewen Matthews (St Peter’s) – 16:12
149 – Johnny Styrin (Colfox) – 16:21
235 – Jack Williams (St Michael’s Wimborne) – 16:51
280 – Alex Jones (Poole Grammar) – 17:13
291 – Arief McKenna (BSB) – 17:21
319 – Tristan Green (QE Wimborne) – 17:58
We had a strong-looking Junior Girls team too, placed 26th overall. Darcy Dryden was first home, with consistent performer Erin Wells just five seconds back. Our next pairing of Lucy Bickerton and Lexie Brown were separated by just nine seconds, but extraordinarily with runners streaming over the line in that part of the race, they were 40 paces apart! Lexie is the Dorset Schools Champion but she’s had a tough time of it since winning that meeting, it’s been great to see her form and confidence returning over the past two weekends, first at the Inter-Counties and then here at the English Schools. There were still two scoring positions to be claimed and these went to WAC and Sherborne Girls’ 100%-er Birdie Payne who never gives less than everything and Bryanston’s Madie Ogilvie. The team was completed by Martha Preece, and WAC’s India West. India wasn’t able to show her best form, the heavy ground aggravated an old ankle issue and she showed real character to finish – a post-race ice pack was required.
Junior Girls (344 finishers) – 26th team
51 – Darcy Dryden (Leweston) – 12:01
64 – Erin Wells (Talbot Heath) – 12:06
98 – Lucy Bickerton (Leweston) – 12:21
138 – Lexie Brown (Talbot Heath) – 12:30
245 – Birdie Payne (Sherborne Girls) – 12:57
294 – Madie Ogilvie (Bryanston) – 13:19
322 – Martha Preece (BSG) – 13:43
339 – India West (Hanford) – 14:05
There was a solid performance from Dorset’s Intermediate Boys for 25th. The team was led home County Champion Ed Bird, his performances belie the fact that he’s competing year-young in this category in the 2019/2020 season. Josh Smith was next in for us, with Ollie James, Mark Ruby, Tom Jackson and Ollie Squires claiming the remaining point-scoring positions. WAC’s Tom Jackson has had a remarkable season, he’d featured in a few schools races for QE, but it’s only since the turn of the year that he’s really emerged, the first of the big performances coming at the South West Inter-Counties. Ollie Rawles did an outstanding job in winning selection. Indeed some of the fiercest competition for team places came from his own Wimborne AC team-mates. Dorset had a DNF in this race. It can happen to anyone and it was the unfortunate Jasper Todd who was in difficulties. Jasper is a fine athlete having won the silver medal at the Dorset Schools Championships and recording a very impressive 7th at the South West Schools. He’s had some issues with his breathing over the past couple of weeks and it just wasn’t his day.
Inter Boys (331 finishers) – 25th team
39 – Ed Bird (Thomas Hardye) – 19:21
112 – Josh Smith (Clayesmore) – 20:04
139 – Ollie James (BSB) – 20:15
151 – Mark Ruby (Poole Grammar) – 20:22
190 – Tom Jackson (QE Wimborne) – 20:42
234 – Ollie Squires (Clayesmore) – 21:05
312 – Ollie Rawles (QE Wimborne) – 22:19
The final races of the day were the Seniors with the girls going first. Maddy Johnson had a fine run and led the team home. Good friends Fern Kimber and WAC’s Holly Nixon also looked racey and were just 12 seconds apart. Holly’s school-mate Niamh Carey was next and Gabi Shaw and Issy Somers claimed the remaining scoring positions. The team was completed by Phoebe Mills.
Senior Girls (298 finishers) – 34th team
56 – Maddy Johnson (Thomas Hardye) – 17:36
132 – Fern Kimber (Parkstone) – 18:32
143 – Holly Nixon (Gillingham) – 18:44
207 – Niamh Carey (Gillingham) – 19:54
265 – Gabi Shaw (Bryanston) – 20:48
279 – Issy Somers (Parkstone) – 21:29
290 – Phoebe Mills (Thomas Hardye) – 23:21
The final race of the day saw the Senior Boys in action. There was a feisty tussle for the honour of being the first Dorset vest home in this one. It was Charlie Bird who was able to claim bragging rights over Chet Gillespie. Just five seconds separated Charlie and Chet. The dependable WAC pairing of Ben Martin and Charlie Davies were next home, with Sam Stewart and Adam Petty picking up the final points positions. Nat Willmore, who completed our team, has recorded many good performances over the years but he had a tough time of it here. He’s a resilient character which all athletes need to be.
Senior Boys (323 finishers) – 37th team
98 – Charlie Bird (Canford) – 23:06
106 – Chet Gillespie (Woodroffe) – 23:11
234 – Ben Martin (Poole Grammar) – 24:45
248 – Charlie Davies (QE Wimborne) – 25:01
267 – Sam Stewart (Leweston) – 25:28
276 – Adam Petty (BSB) – 25:42
291 – Nat Willmore (Corfe Hills) – 26:05
Dorset is in the English Schools’ third category of counties based on population. With the scores totted up over all age-groups, the girls compete for the Sidney Rose Trophy and the boys the Sussex Trophy. In 2016 and 2017 Dorset won the Sidney Rose Trophy (which is for combined scores of top six girls across all age-groups) for the first time since the 1980s, this time around we came close again, we were runners-up. In the Sussex Trophy our boys placed 5th.
The curtain has finally comes down on another cross-country season. All the indications are that our young middle distance athletes might have some wait until they are able to show what they can do on the track.