With no less than four team wins, plus four individual victories, along
with a superb set of minor team and individual successes,
Morpeth Harriers & AC were certainly once again a dominant force
to be reckoned with at the 111th annual North Eastern Athletics
Association Cross Country Championships,
held at Aykley Heads, Durham on Saturday10th December.
Undoubtedly the best performance on the day came in the Senior Men’s 12k Championship,
where the club took all three individual medals, courtesy of Jonny Taylor,
who enjoyed his second win in the event, second placed Nick Swinburn, and third placed Carl Avery.
Taylor, who took the Championship at Newcastle’s Town Moor in 2014,
eventually stole away on the final lap of three very tough circuits, to win
by a margin of three seconds from his very hard working clubmate Swinburn,
who was seeking his first victory after finishing second to Taylor in 2014,
and also second to Sunderland Harrier Mark Hood at Wrekenton in 2008.
Avery, who had finished second to Stockport’s former Sunderland Harrier
Patrick Martin at a snow-covered Sedgefield twelve months ago,
and eighth to Taylor in 2014, was also hoping for individual glory,
however he eventually succumbed to the pressure added by his
two front running club colleagues, and settled for third place, a further fifty-four seconds adrift.
He had also battled to hold off the early close attentions from Durham City’s Dan Garbutt,
himself a former Champion, being a winner at South Shields in January 2013,
following a postponement of the 2012 Championships in December 2012, because of adverse conditions.
The excellent one-two-three by the three Morpeth Harriers certainly paved the way
to an outstanding Senior Men’s team victory, with added superb performances
coming from Robert Balmbra (9th), Sam Hancox (11th), and Lewis Timmins (15th).
In addition to the scoring six, Morpeth’s other runners also did themselves proud.
James Taylor was only two places adrift of Timmins in seventeenth place,
and he was followed home by Thomas Straughan (27th), Jordan Scott (64th),
newcomer Matthew Collinson, in his first ever championship, who finished 83rd,
Matthew Boyle (88th), Tim Miley (89th), Rob Hancox (100th), and Steve Patterson (103rd).
The Senior Men’s event had 413 finishers, and Morpeth Harriers team success
saw them achieve a total of 41 points, giving them a comfortable margin
of 66 points over second placed Durham City, with third placed
Tyne Bridge Harriers a further 22 points adrift in third place.
Two times Olympian, and European and Commonwealth medallist Laura Weightman
became the first Morpeth Harrier to lift the Senior Women’s 8k title since Dianne Henaghan in 1996,
and led her club to a twenty-six-point margin team victory over Jarrow and Hebburn,
with Gosforth Harriers a further sixteen points adrift in third team place.
Weightman had been expected to line up in the 200 plus strong field alongside
fellow Olympians Alyson Dixon of Sunderland Strollers, and Sale Harrier Sonia Thomas,
plus six times winner, and reigning Champion Rosie Smith of Durham City,
however that factor evaporated at the eleventh hour following the withdrawal of all three for varied reasons.
It was no surprise when Weightman went quickly to the front from the gun,
being hotly pursued by club colleague Emma Holt, and Gosforth Harriers
Rachel Lundgren and Helen Warburton, plus another chasing group that
included Gateshead’s Mary Ferrier, Tyne Bridge Harrier Alison Dargie,
Morpeth pair Josie Cram and Jane Hodgson, and Jarrow and Hebburn pair
Alex Sneddon and Gina Rutherford, the latter running her first race
as an official counter for Steve Cram’s old club.
Cram was there himself to witness Weightman lift her first North Eastern Cross Country title,
since she had won as an Under 13 athlete in her very first appearance as a Morpeth Harrier at Darlington in 2003.
After emerging from the first of two long 4k laps with a healthy fifty metre lead over Holt,
Weightman proceeded to lengthen her advantage as the race progressed,
and eventually crossed the finish line with a comfortable margin, over her nearest rival.
It was still Holt who had held onto second place and a Silver medal, with Lundgren just
managing to hold off her Gosforth club colleague Warburton for the Bronze medal.
There was more delight however for Morpeth Harriers, when they took the Senior Women’s team title,
with Weightman and Holt being very ably supported by Josie Cram (7th) and Jane Hodgson (8th).
Another good prominent Morpeth Harrier performance came from Catriona MacDonald,
who finished in twelfth place overall.
Scott Beattie, who just missed out on a place in Great Britain’s Under 20 Men’s squad
in the European Cross Country Championships in Sardinia this weekend,
which would have prevented him taking his place at Aykley Heads,
more than made up for that disappointment by achieving a superb
forty second margin victory in the Under 20 Men’s 8k Championship.
Beattie took individual Gold, with Silver going to Houghton’s Alex Brown, with Middlesbrough
and Cleveland’s Jack Willis claiming the Bronze medal, a further nine seconds adrift.
Good supportive running by Phil Winkler (11th), and Jake Masterman (12th)
saw Morpeth Harriers take the team title.
Another prominent club performer was Jacob Hopkins, who finished in 22nd place.
Daniel Dixon called upon all of his strengths to fend off the close attentions of
Middlesbrough Mandale’s Archie Lowe, to win his very first North Eastern
Counties Cross Country title, in the Under 15 Boys 4.5k Championship.
He had been runner up to Middlesbrough Mandale’s Josh Cowperthwaite at Sedgefield in 2015,
and also at Newcastle’s Town Moor in 2014, when still an Under 13, so this victory for Dixon was particularly sweet.
It was made even sweeter when it emerged that Dixon had led Morpeth
to the team title by the margin of 22 points over Durham City,
with Houghton Harriers a further fifteen points adrift in third team place.
Dixon was supported in the team race by Ross Charlton, who unluckily had just missed out
on individual Bronze to Houghton’s Henry Johnson in a tight finish, having to settle for fourth,
and Daniel Melling, who finished an individual seventh.
Other Morpeth Harriers in action in the Under 15 Boys event
were Andrew Hudspith (24th), and Brad Brown (30th).
There was certainly strength in depth in the performance of Morpeth Harriers Under 17 Men’s squad,
who found themselves just squeezed out of the team title in their 6k Championship
by Middlesbrough Mandale by two points, with Durham City a further 23 points adrift in third place.
Whilst 2015 Under 15 Champion Josh Cowperthwaite of Middlesbrough Mandale won the event quite comfortably,
it was the excellent performances of Morpeth pair Taylor Glover and Rory Leonard that certainly caught the eye,
as they battled with another Middlesbrough Mandale threat from Ben Bergstrand and Josh Allen respectively for minor medals.
Eventually Glover broke clear, in what was possibly his finest club run since
finishing third to Cowperthwaite and Dixon at Sedgefield twelve months ago,
to take the Silver medal, leaving club colleague Leonard to fend off the fast
approaching Bergstrand to take the much-prized Bronze medal.
Finishing in seventh place overall, Morpeth’s Kieran Hedley gave a great fight
to remain in contention, and close his clubs tally.
Other Morpeth Harriers performers in the total finishing field of 37 were Joe Ramshaw,
making his Championship debut, who finished three seconds adrift of Hedley in eighth place,
Liam Marsh (10th), Matthew Waterfield (12th), Connor Marshall (19th), and Alex Cunningham (21st).
Despite wakening up feeling extremely poorly after overnight sickness,
Morpeth Harriers leading light in the Under 15 Girls 4.5k event Holly Peck
bravely and determinedly toed the start line, and finished third behind
Darlington pair Catherine Roberts and India Pentland.
Although personally disappointed to miss out on Gold, to win the Bronze
was a great achievement under such circumstances, and to lead her club
to Silver team medals was a big bonus, losing out to a rampant Darlington by 20 points.
Lily Heaton (10th), and Lauren Cummings (15th), provided the excellent Morpeth supporting counts.
Morpeth Harriers Under 13 Boys achieved an excellent team result,
when finishing third behind Durham City, with Gateshead Harriers taking second place.
Only fourteen points separated the first three teams, and Morpeth just beat off
a stern challenge from Middlesbrough Mandale for the Bronze medals,
courtesy of Ben Walker, who produced an excellent run to finish sixth,
and was only nine seconds adrift of an individual medal, Dylan Davies,
who finished ninth, and twelve seconds adrift of Walker, and Alex Porteous (33rd).
Other Morpeth Harriers in action in the Under 13 Boys 3k event
were Sam Tate (40th), and James Tilley (50th).
In the combined Under 17/Under 20 Women’s 6k event, Morpeth Harriers finished in fifth team place,
courtesy of Alison Brown (20th), Gracie Hufton (22nd), and Abby Sheldon,
who had been suffering from a heavy cold all week, and had bravely battled on to finish 39th.
Rhiannon Hedley led the clubs Under 13 Girls home to sixth team place in their 3k event.
She finished in seventh place overall, and was only around thirty seconds adrift of minor medals.
Further team support came from Mia Belton (24th), and Laura Melling (37th).
For the first time, ever in the North Eastern Counties Cross Country
Championships meeting, non-scoring events for Under 11’s (Male and Female)
were held prior to the Championship races getting underway.
Morpeth Harriers had two athletes competing in the Boys race, run over 1.5k,
and Joseph Hudspith and Ryan Davies finished in seventh and eleventh places respectively.
It was a truly excellent day all round for Morpeth Harriers, who still to be confirmed at time of going to press,
look set to retain the Championship overall performance trophies for both Male and Female,
which also means that they will also retain the overall overall trophy,
Watch This Space !!