The Chichester charge is impressive at Plumpton

The action is under way at Plumpton
The action is under way at Plumpton

THERE was unprecedented success for Chichester when more than 500 of the best runners in the county did battle in a Sussex Cross-Country League fixture over the demanding course at Plumpton Agricultural College.

The course, at the foot of the South Downs, offered near-perfect conditions as the recent dry spell had left the ground soft in places but without the ankle-deep mud of previous seasons.

The day proved memorable for Chichester with a top-three placing for their teams in seven of the eight age groups, including four winning performances and an overall division-one victory for the senior women - the first time this has happened in the 30-year history of the club.

After a strong showing in the first fixture at Goodwood, Chichester were in confident mood at the start of the 5,000m senior women’s race with five of the squad of seven athletes racing off the line to establish themselves at the front of the field.

Leading the charge was Rose Ellis, still an under-17, who quickly settled in the top half-dozen and was soon clear of the rest of the field until only two of the county’s finest runners were in front, previous winners Caroline Hoyte and Julie Briggs, both from Brighton Phoenix AC.

Going into the second lap of the 2,500m circuit, Ellis had Briggs in her sight and was soon into second place and chasing down the leader. A surge in the final mile reduced the gap but the Brighton runner just held on to win by just three seconds, but leaving Ellis with her best ever result.

Next home for Chichester was veteran Jane Harrop, who cut through the field for a fine fifth and top spot in her over-45 age group. Two more of the club’s promising under-17s, Hannah Croad and Emma Maynard, finished eighth and 12th to give Chichester a total of 17 points from their four scoring athletes.

That was one more than Phoenix, meaning Chichester won the match and moved above Brighton & Hove and Worthing to head division one for the first time ever.

There was more good news behind as Charlotte Reading in 22nd was followed home by Nicola Mead in 46th and Lucy Ellis 47th to keep the B team in the top two promotion places in division two, leaving the possibility of the club having two teams in the top flight next season.

In the under-17 team rankings, the club’s A team lead the table by 14 points with the B team just a couple of points outside the medal positions.

With the under-17 and senior men running in separate races of difference in distances, the under-17s were in action first and Harry Leleu continued his fine season with another runner-up spot behind Brighton’s Stephen Ferroni.

Chichester’s strength in depth in this age group is the envy of other clubs, with Casey Keates and Josh James also making the top ten with seventh and eighth respectively to score 17 points, just three points behind league leaders Brighton but with clear daylight.

Also showing good form were the B team of Harry Pink in 14th, Ed Gerwat in 20th and Harry Lyne in 21st for a total of 91 points and with a chance of gaining team medals at the end of the season.

The seniors tackled the three-lap 8,000m course and it was a welcome return to league competition for James Baker after his recent series of half marathons to finish a close fifth in a very competitive race.

James McKenzie was next home in 14th and second in the under-20 category, followed by Aaron Hancock in 53rd and over-60 Rob Wiggins completing the scoring to give Chichester 158 points and keep them at the top of division three and on course for a speedy return to a higher division.

Wiggins had double cause for celebration as he cemented his place at the top of the over-60 rankings, finishing more than a minute clear of Peter Witcomb, a former county champion.

There was good back-up from the rest of the squad with John Bullard leading the way in 101st followed by Nick Palmer 121st, Tom Blaylock 122nd, Mike Moorcroft 151st, Mark Jennings 160th, John Betts 176th and Peter Shaw 180th, the last two also members of Chichester flourishing over-60s who will be looking forward to their separate age group championships in January.

Chichester’s talented juniors also hit fine form at Plumpton including a win for the under 13 boys and all their results will be in next week’s Observer (Dec 5).

With just a week off, the 3rd fixture in the Sussex league will be held on Saturday, December 7, over the popular Lancing Manor course with the action starting with an invitation race for under-11s at midday and the league action staring at 12.30pm.

PHIL BAKER