Chichester were edged out in their opening Southern Athletics League fixture of the season at Andover.
Coming just a week after the final event of the winter programme, the Sussex Road Relays, clubs had very little time to prepare for the start of the track and field outdoor season. Nevertheless all four clubs in the match produced performances of high quality for this fixture.
Chichester made a great start to the 36-event programme over nearly five hours of competition and were leading the others in the early stages. However weaker events during the latter stages meant they were overhauled and had to settle for fourth place.
It would be no surprise if this proved to be Chichester’s toughest match of the whole season and the club are already looking forward to the next match on Sunday, May 20 at Poole.
1 Andover & Overton 179 points
2 Winchester & District 175
3 Worthing & District Harriers 165
4 Chichester 132
It was no surprise Chichester’s in-form middle distance runners were the most successful with a clean sweep in both 800m and 1,500m.
The club’s fastest runner at the Sussex relays, Ben Collins, used his natural speed and a return to fitness to win the A string 800m in fine style in a time of 2.01.2, getting the better of his Winchester rival down the home straight with a convincing burst of speed to win by over a second.
Things were more clear-cut in the B string where Liam Dunne had his first match for the senior team, having progressed from the under-15s over the winter.
Dunne was only just slower than Collins at 2.01.8 and had more than ten seconds to spare over his nearest match, rival although club-mate Will Broom pushed Dunne all the way as a non-scorer to record a fast time of 2.03.2.
Broom reversed the positions later in the match over Dunne in the 1,500m although both runners were much too good for athletes from the other three clubs.
Elsewhere on the track the standard of sprinting was red hot for such an early stage in the season and for Chichester there were battling runs over 100m from Isaac Kilroy and Alex Ioan, while Brandon Bell and Max Lambkin tackled the 200m, with Bell and Collins forming the 400m pairing.
In the gruelling 400m hurdles, Lambkin ran a well-judged race to win the A string by a second from his Winchester rival with excellent support from Oscar Hares winning the B string, another who has just progressed from the under-15 ranks.
In the jumps Collins, Ioan and Lambkin were on good form with help from newcomers to the team Alex Rivadossi and Thonamachara Phulphan in the triple jump.
Regular top veteran thrower Andy Hall was joined by another newcomer Jonathan Russell in shot, discus and hammer, the latter event being of a particularly high standard with the two Worthing throwers near to 50m. Hall had a very busy afternoon with the javelin together with Pulphan and fitting in the pole vault between his four throwing events to gain 2nd place in the A string in the process.
There was a new-look team for Chichester’s women, with just three of last season’s squad available.
As with the men’s squad, there were new athletes who had just come up from the under15s with Emily Russell having a baptism of fire needing to spearhead the sprints in the absence of last season’s pairing of Sophie-Anne Haigh and Rachel Laurie.
Russell stuck to her task, helped by Florence Smith and university student Jenny Jakeman. Jakeman had joined up with fellow student Rebecca Brown to score an unexpected double win in the 400m hurdles.
With the double men’s win, this represented the first occasion Chichester have gained maximum points from the two events.
Jakeman was not finished on the track as she teamed up with another new under-17, Maggie King, in the 400m, with King having already run the 800m.
Sophie Wright used her recent good cross-country form to post a good time in the 3,000m with Brown in support.
In the field events with no specialist jumpers on display, Smith, King and again Jakeman added useful points to the club total.
Lucie Munday was one of the trio of last year’s team together with mother Sarah and, for this match, brought elder sister Jennifer to contest all four throws and add more than a dozen useful points to Chichester’s tally.
After more than four hours of competition the quartet of Russell, King, Smith and Brown summoned up the energy to tackle the 4x400m relay.
Overall, the match provided a springboard for the rest of the season with a greatly strengthened squad in prospect for the next fixture.
Junior track and field: Under-13 and Under-15 preview
Saturday sees the turn of Chichester’s juniors to take to the track with their opening National League match at the K2 at Crawley.
Having been division-two champions for the past two seasons, Chichester have taken their place in division one and are fully expecting to be really tested.
Not only are one of the top Sussex junior clubs Horsham in this division but top Surrey clubs Guildford & Godalming and Kingston will also present classy opposition.
Winchester & District and Team Dorset are the other two clubs in the six-club league and Chichester know they will have to be at their best to justify their promotion.
Luckily a number of last year’s under-15s are still available, notably the strong throwing contingent of all-rounder Oliver Beach, Vinnie Conte-Smith and Zach Entiknapp.
In the Sussex Grand final last September, when Chichester were runners-up to Crawley, the pole vault pairing of Entiknapp and Archie Sadler won vital points to propel Chichester into second place.
The same pairing are available this time and we may even see twins Maisie and Skye Sadler making it a full house in the girls’ event.
At least four of last year’s girls’ under-15 squad are available, including Fleur Hollyer, who has been having a successful indoor season.
Chichester’s strongest element for the girls may come from the middle-distance runners with Olivia Toms, Nina Moranne and Nicole Boltwood joined by the in-form trio from the under-13 cross country team, Eva Buckler, Isobel Buckler and Cerys Dickinson.
As for the under-13s, most clubs will field a virtually new team, Chichester included.
For the boys, Fionn O’Murchu will be the most experienced member of the team having helped last year’s under-13s to their league win. But for many of the Year 6 and 7 pupils in the squad this will be the first opportunity to test themselves on a 400m all-weather track in a formal competition.
A full report will be in next week’s Observer.