There were record fields in the first fixture of the Sussex Cross Country League at Goodwood with more than 600 of the best athletes in the county competing in the nine-race programme.
Among this record turnout, host club Chichester Runners had their highest number for a single event with 92 competitors ranging from under-11s right through to seniors and veterans.
As well as having some high individual placings, Chichester’s teams featured in the top three in ten of the 14 categories.
Once early-morning mist had cleared, conditions were nigh on perfect for racing with firm ground underfoot and very little breeze high on the Sussex Downs.
Having been league champions in 2014-15, Chichester’s women were slightly disappointed to only finish fourth last season – but started their campaign at Goodwood in fine style by leading division one by five points from the pre-race favourites, Brighton based Arena 80.
The leading quartet had a new look with three out of the four runners still in the under-17 age group and forging a clear lead in that category as well.
Leading the club home was Olivia Wiseman, who continued her good form from the relay championships with a fine fifth place.
The next three Chichester runners finished within eight seconds of each other with Imogen Matthews in 12th, university student Alice Wright 13th and Tara Sallaba 15th. The future is looking very bright for Chichester’s women.
The club’s B team placed third in division two, well in touch with the promotion places with all three runners still in the under-17 age group.
Alive Cox-Rusbridge led them in 18th, followed by Bo Sansom in 26th and Florence Smith in 42nd. This means the club have two teams in the top three under-17 rankings with the A team first and the B team third.
Showing the club’s best-ever strength in depth in its 33-year history in any women’s cross-country race, Chichester fielded six complete teams in the senior race.
Other scorers: Annabel Parker 43rd, Sophie Wright 54th, Beth Brown 58th, top over 60 Helen Dean 60th, Alice Ward 78th, Nadia Anderson 81st, Elizabeth Robinson 90th, Julia Hammond 102nd, Liz Wingham 107th, Rebecca Brown 112th, Sandra Nemorin-Noel 113th, Liz Peskett 117th and Sarah Freeman-Smith 118th.
After much promise at the start of last season, Chichester’s senior men’s challenge for promotion back to division one fell away. This time the club are determined not to make the same mistake and started the season with a resounding gap of well over 100 points at the top of division two.
Talisman James Baker had one of his best cross-country races for several seasons with third place overall and led a quality veterans’ field home ahead of top South of England runners Chris Smith and Howard Bristow.
Solid runs from Conrad Meagher in 18th and newcomer Tom Pritchard in 28th, and a fine 34th by under-20 Ben Morton, gave the club a total of 83 points against 218 from their nearest challengers.
There was good packing from the B team who have a narrow lead in division three so Chichester may be looking at a double promotion if they can keep the squad injury-free.
Joe Godwood led them home in 40th followed by Mike Houston in 44th and another under-20 Brodie Keates in 47th with veteran Richard Pullen 89th.
There was an excellent show of depth with John Bullard 106th, Jason Boswell 114th, Gary Williams 119th, Om Phulphan 120th, Emmanuel Obine 122nd, Mike Moorcroft 132nd, Andrew Wingham 137th, Tom Blaylock 142nd, Martin Miller 151st and the only over-70 in the race, Peter Anderson 154th and Jeremy Harrison 156th.
Injuries mean Chichester have still to find their best form in the under-17 men. But they are getting back to their best with a runners-up place at the relays two weeks previously and a third place on Saturday, with the B team backing up well in tenth.
Leo Stallard led the squad home in sixth followed by Ben Collins in 16th and Alfie Spurle 20th for a team total of 42 points, just adrift of Brighton and Horsham, who occupy the top two places.
The B team were well packed with JJ Staples 22nd, Harry Sage 29th and David Bisatt 30th.
There was another club record turnout from Chichester’s junior girls with a squad of 26 runners in three age groups.
There was a fine run from Olivia Toms in the under-15 race, won by former national under-13 champion Bethany Cook. Toms was fourth in a high-quality field which should see Sussex challenge for inter-county honours. Maggie King and Nina Moranne were 23rd and 24th for a team total of 51 points and fifth place.
The B team were even more closely packed with Charlotte Bullard in 35th, Hannah Carmichael 36th and Rose Potter 38th. Their total of 109 points left them 12th, in touch with the top ten. The C team are 15th on 135 points thanks to Lucy Ward 44th, Sophie Lambourne 45th and Maya Solly 46th with reserve Amelia Bromell in 47th.
Fresh from their gold medal winning relay display, the under-13s were again up against the best in Sussex but on this occasion they lie just outside the top three. Crawley have a commanding lead.
With less than 30 seconds separating the top ten finishers, Eva Buckler did well to come home in eighth with twin sister Isobel 11th.
Cerys Dickinson completed the scoring for the A team in 17th for a team total of 36 points just behind Brighton on 29 and Eastbourne on 30. Tamsin Anelay led the B team home in 37th with Izzie Lunn 40th and Edith Ingram 43rd.
Many of the under-11s had their first taste of league competiton and Grace Bishop led Chichester home in ninth place followed by Florence Ingram 11th, Carrie Anelay 14th, Laila Hellyer 15th, Lillie Hellyer 17th, Grace Emison 21st, Ellie Courtney 23rd, Harriet Coomber 24th, Lily Root 26th and Hannah Holte 27th.
Chichester’s only disappointment of the day team-wise was in the under-15 boys’ race where only Niall Mears in 39th and Eden Murphy in 54th lined up for the start, with top runner Liam Dunne unavailable.
The under-13s made up for this with three complete teams and several athletes making their first appearances for the club.
Joe McLarnon had probably his best cross-country race with a fine second plac,e with the top three pulling well clear of the rest.
Behind them there was one of the best Chichester performances of the day with newcomer Harvey McGuiness finishing strongly in 13th just in front of team-mate Fionn O’Murchu in 15th. Their team total of 30 points earned them third spot behind strong clubs Hastings and Crawley.
The B team also made the top ten with Gabriel White in 26th just in front of Logan Cooper in 27th and Max Sydenham 45th, bringing home the team. The C team comprised Marcus Bone 48th, Arthur Dearlove 51st and Barney McLarnon with reserve Roman Watson in 65th.
In the under-11 boys race Josh Dunne led the club contingent home in ninth place in a very competitive race followed by Felix Evison 21st, Magnus Evison 27th, Sam Cato 29th, Alex Sydenham 31st, Seb Fenmor Collins 34th and Digby Fulford 36th.
* The next league fixture is at Bexhill, which will be important for three reasons for Chichester.
It can consolidate the fine overall start to the league and keep the club teams in contention with a good showing. In addition, top runners have a final chance to impress the Sussex selectors before the South of England inter-county match at Oxford in December.
The final consideration is that the Sussex championships will be held over the same course in January so it will be an ideal opportunity for athletes to test themselves over the course.