Chichester’s track and field league season kicked off at a cold and windswept Salisbury – and the club had one of its most encouraging starts to a season for many years.
With a squad of 21, no fewer than eight were making their first appearance in the competition and 15 were from the club’s emerging junior section, either in the under-17 or under-20 age groups.
In fact only five of the 2016 team were born when men’s captain James Baker made his first appearance in the club’s inaugural match in 1994.
Not fazed by their older opposition, there were three double winners from the junior group in the women’s part of the match.
The opposition comprised Salisbury, who always put out a well-balanced team, ando Newquay & Par, reckoned to be one of the best all-round clubs in the south-west.
Chichester’s busiest athlete of the day was decathlete Phil Kearney, who has shaken off injury problems. As well as wins in the high jump and pole vault, Kearney was in action in shot, discus and javelin, this after notching up a second place in the 400m hurdles, considered to be one of the most gruelling events on an Olympic programme.
Veterans Tim Brown and Andy Hall combined, with the help of Kearney in all four throws including hammer, to make Chichester the top men’s throwers.
Another area in which the club has been strong over the years has been the middle-distance events and this year promises to be no exception.
Talisman Baker was on his best early-season form for a number of years and posted a time of 15min 40sec for the 5,000m despite being on his own for virtually the whole race and having to combat a headwind into the home straight on each of the 13 occasions he crossed the line.
Mikey Neville made it a double win in the B string, repeated later in the match by Conrad Meagher and Luke Campbell in the 2,000m steeplechase.
In between Baker had recorded his second win of the day in the 5,000m, supported by Meagher in the B string, while Ben Collins, just emerging from a tough cross-country season for the under-15s, and Will Kallaway made a good pairing in the 800m.
In the sprints Brandon Bell and Lewis Hall battled well against their older rivals into a strong headwind which affected times.
Harry Carter supported Kearney in the high jump to record a double win and was partnered by another under-17, Jack Herrington, in the triple jump.
With seven of the eight women in Chichester’s team the emphasis was certainly on youth, although they were also joined by over-35 Polly Neville, making her first appearance for the club’s track team – her husband Mike was a newcomer for the men’s team.
With Sophie-Anne Haigh joined by last year’s Sussex under-15 champion Alyssa White, the sprinters were the strongest part of the women’s team with a double first in both the 100m and 200m.
Times were slower than usual into the headwind but the manner of victory was a promising start to the season for both girls.
Rachel Laurie ran well as a non-scorer and with under-20s Caitlin Moore and Mia Faulkner coming into the relay squad, the sprinters are the strongest in the club’s history.
Also making a strong first impression was under-17 Cat Scott, who set a new personal best in winning the high jump with 1.52m as well as making it a double first in the triple jump.
Charlotte Reading was runner-up in the 1,500m with Neville matching her performance in the B string. With a number of athletes unavailable, squad members filled in gaps to good effect.
Laurie and Neville picked up useful points in the hammer and Moore and Faulkner matched them in the shot while White surprised herself and the rest of the team with a B-string win in the high jump and a personal best in the process.
Chichester’s next match in the Southern League is not until Sunday, May 22, at Broadbridge Heath, where among their rivals will be top UK club Windsor & Eton, who have entered the league this year.
As when they met another National League club, Belgrave Harriers, a few years ago, this will be a chance for the Chichester squad to match themselves against the best.
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