Fairly autumnal conditions, laced by a stiff breeze were faced by the near 400 athletes,
representing East Northumberland (EN), North Northumberland (NN), North Tyneside (NT),
Newcastle (Newc), and Tynedale (Tyne), at the annual Northumberland Schools
Cross Country Championships, which were held at Temple Park, South Shields, on Tuesday 15th January 2019.
Having already competed in their respective area championships during December, this was the second stepping stone towards hopefully the eventual possibility of achieving the honour of representing their county, at the annual English Schools National Cross-Country Championships, scheduled to be held for the second year in succession at Temple Newsham, near Leeds in March.
Before that, successful athletes will also need to satisfy the county selectors by qualifying for and competing at the annual Northern Area Schools Inter Counties Cross Country Championships, which will also be held at Temple Park on Saturday 2nd February.
The only exception to this, would be the Minor Boys, and Minor Girls, whose competition will end at the Inter Counties, with only Juniors, Intermediates, and Seniors of both genders, going forward to the National Championships.
On Tuesday, the top sixteen in each category were put forward to the Inter Counties, which effectively on the day saw 29 of the 42 Morpeth Harriers in action progress to the next level.
The club also had athletes who achieved a total of nine championship medals,
that included three Gold, four Silver, and two Bronze.
In addition, the club also had eighteen athletes who finished in top eight places over the eight races.
The only event where a Morpeth Harrier athlete did not secure a medal winning place, was in the Junior Boys.
Teams also competed for an overall trophy, namely the Gill Mooney Cup, named after the lady who very much masterminded the competition during the 80’s and partly the 90’s before her sad untimely passing during the latter.
Gill is also the Late Mother of Morpeth Harrier Jane Hodgson, and former members John and Paul Mooney, and Late Wife of Brian, who all still have associations with the club.
On this occasion, the cup was won by Newcastle.
The competition itself saw some truly excellent performances by the Morpeth Harriers representatives, notably Holly Peck (East), Gracie Hufton (Newc), and Tom Balsdon (East), who all won respective Gold Medals in the Intermediate Girls, Senior Girls, and Intermediate Boys events.
For Peck, it was an incredible fifth title, having won a Minor Girls, two Junior Girls, and now two Intermediate Girls events, since her first Northumberland Schools success in 2015, and there are very few of her era or gender to have achieved such a distinction.
On this occasion Peck won by a comfortable margin from Gateshead Harrier Innes Curran, who was representing Newcastle, who was the winner of the 2018 Junior Girls event and had finished third to Peck in 2017.
Only twenty seconds adrift of the medals in the Intermediate Girls event was Peck’s Morpeth Harriers club colleague Rebecca Bradley (EN).
Peck also had the extra satisfaction, in that she had improved on her 2018 time on the same 4k course, by the magnitude of 72 seconds.
Morpeth Harriers other prominent finisher was Rhiannon Hedley (NN), who was 14th, and will also run in the forthcoming Schools Inter Counties Championships.
Just missing out was Morpeth’s Lily Heaton (EN), who was 17th, and the clubs’
other finisher Sophie Coaker (EN) was 24th.
The Senior Girls event, run over the same 4k distance that was run by the Intermediate Girls, saw a superb finish by Morpeth athletes Gracie Hufton (Newc), Ella Duffield (NN), and Kirsty Duffin (EN), who took the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals respectively.
Hufton won by a comfortable margin of thirty-six seconds, with Duffin a further twelve seconds adrift.
Another Morpeth finisher in this event was Kay Errington (Newc), who finished in ninth place.
Seven athletes from Morpeth Harriers were amongst the 61 strong field who contested the Intermediate Boys 5.3k event, and all of them did enough to see them make it through to the Inter Counties.
It also saw the club see their third Gold medallist of the day in Tom Balsdon, (EN), the area champion, who won by six seconds from Rowan Bennett, his club colleague, who was running for Tynedale, and took the Silver medal.
Next Morpeth runner home was Ben Walker, and it was very pleasing to see him finish fifth,
after having a very torturous year fighting off repetitive injury and illness.
Ben, running for East Northumberland, has worked extremely hard in regaining full fitness,
and is now getting back to something like the form and promise that he showed as an Under 13 Boy, which is particularly pleasing not only for him, but also his coach Mike Bateman, and team colleagues at Morpeth Harriers.
Close behind Ben in sixth seventh and eighth places, were a trio of club colleagues,
all finishing within a thirty second span.
Dylan Davies was the first of the three, followed in by Dylan Gooding,
then Ben Waterfield, all from East Northumberland.
Completing the Morpeth contingent was Thomas Cunningham,
also from East Northumberland, who finished in 14th place.
Unfortunately missing from the Intermediate Boys line-up was Euan Duffin of East Northumberland,
who had been ruled out with a foot injury, however, if he is fit enough, he will be allowed to run the Inter Counties, based upon his previous form.
Morpeth Harriers very nearly provided a fourth Gold medallist in the form of
Rory Leonard in the Senior Boys 6.3k event.
The 2018 East Northumberland Gold medallist somehow managed to stray off course during proceedings,
along with North Tyneside’s Sam Charlton, who is also a seasoned International.
However, because of their respective competitive pedigrees they will still be picked for the Inter Counties,
where they will also rank as favourites to advance to the Nationals.
Having cut around a quarter of the course out, they both returned to the finish line as Leonard slightly ahead of Charlton, however faced instant disqualification on the day, denying them both respective medals.
Those medals instead went to Newcastle pair Patrick Donald, and Daniel Melling, also a Morpeth Harrier, who were three seconds apart.
Also getting into the medals with a Bronze, was Ross Charlton (EN),
who finished ten seconds ahead of his Morpeth Harriers and area colleague Matthew Briggs.
Other club members amongst the finishers were Alex Cunningham and Brad Brown,
both East Northumberland, who finished seventh and eleventh respectively.
Missing from this event was Morpeth’s Taylor Glover of East Northumberland,
who is currently nursing a groin injury.
He hopes to be fit in time to run the Inter Counties.
Abi Leaper, running for Tynedale, picked up a superb Silver medal in the Junior Girls 3k event,
finishing twelve seconds adrift of North Northumberland’s Millie Breeze.
Other Morpeth Harriers in action in this event were Olivia Carruthers (Newc) (24th),
Sophia Cunningham (EN) (36th), Laura Melling (Newc) (39th), and Faye Archbold (NN) (46th).
A very competitive Junior Boys 4k event, which had 66 finishers
saw five Morpeth Harriers qualify for the Inter Counties.
They were led home by Ryan Davies (EN), who finished in seventh place.
Nine seconds behind him was club colleague Sam Tate, also of East Northumberland.
Twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth places were filled by Morpeth Harriers Bertie Marr (NN),
Joe Dixon (EN), and Matthew Walton (EN), who all gained qualification for the Inter Counties.
Other Morpeth Harriers finishers in this event were Callum Rowell (NN) (43rd),
William De Vere Owen (EN) (49th), and Dylan Walker (EN) (50th).
Morpeth Harriers had four athletes in the line-up of 86 Minor Girls in their 2.6k event.
Leading finisher was Molly Baker of North Northumberland, who was thirteenth.
Other finishers were Freya Caygill (EN) (22nd), Lottie Belton (Tyne) (24th), and Catalina Chandler (NN) (45th).
The club had two athletes in the line-up of 86 Minor Boys in their 2.6k event.
Leading club finisher was Sam Dent (EN), who was eleventh, and the other
Morpeth finisher was George Tweedie (EN), who finished in 34th place.
Team placings were
1st Newcastle 423pts,
2nd Tynedale 608pts,
3rd North Tyneside 649pts,
4th East Northumberland 802pts,
5th North Northumberland 890pts.