Saturday saw our Junior Hunt’s first team performance of the year, at the regional round of the ESAA Cross Country Cup, held in Walton Lea Gardens in Warrington. We had high expectations for this talented young group, not least because of the excellent preparation they’ve been given this week by Sentayehu Eshetu, our coach in residence, who came to see the race on his last day with us.
A cool, bright autumn day provided excellent cross-country conditions, though the rain from the night before had made the going fairly heavy in places, made worse by the three other races before our team were called to the start, which churned up the course in several sections to make it very muddy indeed. Coach Eshetu gave some excellent tactical advice while we walked the course in preparation, and there was a look of real confidence and determination about the team as they stared down towards the first corner.
The boys’ performances in the Tuck’s before Exeat - all of them posting top-40 positions, against much older boys - suggested that they had the ability and form to achieve something special here in Warrington. A fast start among the sixty-odd runners meant that it was essential to get to the first corner amongst the leaders, and this was duly achieved with Oscar Dickins and Freddie Fielding among the first four or five runners as they reached the bottleneck. By halfway round the first lap Freddie had taken the lead, looking extremely comfortable. Further down the field, the boys followed Coach’s advice about helping each other out during the race, and as the first of three laps drew to a close, two distinct pairs had formed in Ben Remnant and Charlie Tait-Harris, and Oscar Dickins (who rallied after a difficult first lap) and Will Hayward. Gene Ratanaadaros was engaging in his own battles a little further down the field.
The second lap saw Freddie extend his lead at the front to a significant distance, though he was put under pressure from second place throughout. The two pairs further back were working hard together, and picking off boys in front one by one. On the final lap, as Freddie headed into the woods with less than 500m to go, he’d built up a lead of forty metres or so. He re-emerged with a noticeably longer gap behind him, and charged for the line to take a comfortable but extremely satisfying victory. This was a team event though, and if we were to progress to the national finals in December, we’d need excellent performances from the two pairs still battling away in the woods as Freddie crossed the line. They didn’t disappoint; five of our six runnners finished in the top ten. Ben and Charlie, having worked together throughout, finished 4th and 5th respectively, while Oscar and Will put on an excellent defence to take positions 8 and 9. Gene managed a terrific finish to take 21st, in a race much longer than his preferred 800m!
This really was an astonishing team performance, and amounted to a domination of this race, with a total of just 18 points; far fewer than our nearest rivals. Coach Eshetu was beaming as he congratulated each muddy, exhausted boy on the finish line. We now have a little less than a month to prepare these boys for the much sterner test that awaits them in Bolton in early December for the national finals. With such a strong performance as this, however, they will go into that race with a huge amount of confidence, and must be considered one of the most formidable teams in the country in their age category. Congratulations to every member of this team for a superb race - one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of watching as a Hunt coach.