Saturday 22nd March saw the Hunt make the relatively short trip to Bromsgrove for the final race of the Midlands Independent Schools’ League, and indeed the final race of the season. Having dominated the Colts age-group throughout the term, the title had already been decided in the younger year group, but there was all to play for in the Seniors, with our squad trailing Oundle School by 18 points going into the final event. The League has becoming increasingly high-profile in recent years, with over ten schools competing – Uppingham, Rugby, Oundle, Wrekin, Wellingborough, Welbeck, Worksop, Stamford, Nottingham HS, Repton, and of course the Hunt.
After a long hard season there were tired legs on board the coach, and on arrival, we were greeted with an icy cold downpour of wintry rain. However, with the race start looming, the rain thankfully abated and the sun broke through, lighting the way over the flat and fast course. The Colts would be tackling a shorter than normal 4km route of two laps, and from the off, the expected tussle between Ben Remnant (Ch) and Oscar Dickins (R) resumed, with Will Hayward (R) from the year below not far behind. The team were packing well, with Scott Hatton (S) making a strong start and settling in to the top ten, and a strong start, too, for Ollie Lansdell (PH) who now seems to be back to some of the form he has shown in earlier years.
With the team trophy already secured (and in fact the ‘B’ team medals already secured) this race was more about laying down yet another marker and demonstrating the significant depth that the Hunt have enjoyed at this age group in 2014. Indeed, at the end of the Bromsgrove race, our four ‘B’ team counters were all in the top 20 – Scott Hatton (S) in 8th, Owen Mock (R) in 9th, Naveen Garikipati (Rb) in 16th after a storming run, and Charlie England (Rt) in 18th. Naveen’s run in particular was exceptional given just how new to the Hunt he is, and we are certainly expecting big things from him in the next two years.
Up at the top end of the race, after a long hard battle, Ben Remnant exerted control over the race stretching out on the top fields of the course, with Oscar Dickins unable to respond. Ben came through for his fourth ‘kill’ (win) of the League, with Oscar just behind in 2nd. Will Hayward (R) – with a year to go at this age-group – was 4th, and Charlie Rogers (Rb) back from injury came home in 7th, marking a welcome return to competitive racing after a somewhat frustrating season.
The Seniors race was set to be a tense affair, and in anticipation we had drafted in some of the Old Guard in Ralph Wade (Rb) and Tim Atkins (M). Given that Oundle had logged their lowest score at a race in which the Hunt hadn’t competed, we were determined to be crowned champions, particularly since we had beaten Oundle every other time this season. However, as it was the last race in the League series, we knew that it would be a big field with most of the big names there. Indeed, from the very off, the scramble for positions was fierce, with Rory Fraser (Ch) and Theo Clarke (S) having to start quickly to secure places amongst the lead runners in the first lap.
At 5km, the course was again shorter than normal, perhaps playing into the strength of the track specialists, and indeed, for a time, it appeared that Theo might fancy a crack at taking on the Huntsman. However, Rory was engaged in his own private battle with Wrekin’s Matthew Giles (who had won the Midlands & Northern title up in Sedbergh but had lost the previous week to Rory at the English Schools’ Championships). With Bromsgrove’s lead runner in a league of his own (and having placed top 10 the week before at English Schools), it was a battle for second place, with Theo battling it out for third.
Behind our lead pair, Ralph Wade was doing a sterling job of keeping in the top 10, with Charlie Godman (M) struggling a little with a hip problem that has hampered the second half of his season. We had reinforcements coming through, however, with Ben Smith (Rt) continuing his rich vein of form that this week saw a sub-8 minute benjy for the first time, and some strong running from Roman Faithful (O) in his last ever race for the Hunt.
It looked set to be close if we were to secure a team total low enough to beat Oundle, but we knew that if we had three in the top 10 and our other three counters in the top 20, we stood a good chance. The closing stages of the race were therefore very tense, firstly seeing Rory Fraser engage in a final lung-bursting sprint only to be overhauled in the final home straight and pushed into third. Theo Clarke had also dropped down with severe pain in his ear that had affected him the previous week at English Schools’, meaning he faded down into 7th. However, Ralph had moved up to 8th by the finish, with Ben Smith and Roman Faithful posting 12th and 14th respectively. Godman manfully pushed through to come home as our final counter in 16th, securing a team total of 60 points. Would it be enough, though? As Messrs Middleton and Haworth furiously scribbled out some sums, it looked possible that the seniors had in fact done enough. Just. Their team total (based on your best three scores across the League) had now been lowered to 178, two points lower than Oundle’s 180. However, there was a tense wait to see if Oundle had in fact lowered their score, but when the announcements were made, there was a huge sigh of relief when the Hunt were named as the 2014 Senior Champions, bringing home the trophy last won in 2012, and 2010 before that. It was a fitting finale to what has been a very exciting season, and we were delighted to return with both the Seniors shield and the Colts shield (last won in 2011 and 2012).
An individual silver medal went to Huntsman Rory Fraser in the Senior Boys and to Oscar Dickins in the Colts, with the individual titles going to Ben Remnant in the Colts championship and Tory Mobley in the Senior Girls, with both Ben and Tory notching three ‘kills’ (wins) during the campaign. Congratulations to these four, but let me close by pausing to mention all the many runners (numbering over 50) who have competed for the Hunt in this League over the course of the season. They have been terrific ambassadors for Shrewsbury School, and I have been proud to see them all run in the Hunt vest, running with pride, determination, and focus. On, on!