Chichester came away from the final Sussex Cross Country League fixture of the season with a clutch of individual and team medals.
The fixture on the hilly Lancing Manor course was put back to March for the first time in several years to avoid athletes having to make a choice between this and other events moved because of bad weather.
As a result there were strong fields as Chichester’s juniors aimed to continue their rich vein of form in challenging in many age groups.
Individual star of the day and leading his team to victory was Casey Keates, who recorded his first-ever league win in the under-15 boys’ race with a convincing display of front running.
With team-mates Ed Gerwat seventh and Harry Lyne ninth, Chichester knew their score of 17 points would be good enough to win on the day but there followed an agonising wait to see if their margin of victory was enough to overturn a six-point deficit over leaders Lewes.
With a fourth and eighth place for the first two Lewes finishers all eyes were peeled to see where their third scorer finished and sadly for Chichester a Lewes came into view in tenth to give them overall victory by one point over a season stretching back to the first race at Goodwood in October.
The top two teams had nearly 100 points to spare over the bronze medal winners.
With Sam Pink in 11th and Sam Reading 20th as reserves, there was another near miss for Keates as he had to settle for individual silver by the margin of one point.
There was a similar tight finish in the girls’ race in the same age group with a near-identical outcome in both the team and individual standings.
Pre-season favourites Hastings were the challengers and Chichester looked to have gained the upper hand during the winter, culminating in a stunning team victory in the Sussex championships.
Rose Ellis, reigning county champion from that event, knew she had to beat leader Sophie Markwick from Hastings to share the individual title but after an early attempt to break the field, Ellis found her lead pegged back by the Hastings runner and was forced to concede defeat over the last 1,000metres and settle for silver.
Good packing from Saskia Gardam in seventh, Charlotte Reading eighth and Tara Bage in 11th was not quite enough to prevent Hastings from taking the overall team title, but the girls can be proud of their season especially as the margin to the third was a chasm.
Harry Leleu, Chichester’s county champion in the under-17 boys, had to give way to in-form Jake Alger from Brighton Phoenix and settle for second place on the day and was runner-up for the season.
Josh James had his best run of the season in fourth and with James McKenzie in eighth, Chichester won on the day with an impressive 14 points. This, however, was not quite enough to overhaul the two Brighton clubs so it was team bronze for the trio.
The under-17 girls run with the senior women in this league and have been one of the reasons why newly-promoted Chichester have been in contention for team medals in division one for the first time in their history.
They continued this form with another all-round effort. Newly-crowned Sussex masters champion Fay Cripps led Chichester home in a fine third with top over-50 Jane Harrop sixth overall and clinching the over-45 title with a perfect score of three points for the season.
The next two scoring places went to under-17s Nicola Mead in 25th and Hannah Croad in 26th, with another under-17, Georgina Warner, 29th and delighted to win individual bronze in her age group.
Under-20 Lucy Thraves was followed by under-17 Lucy Ellis in 36th and 39th with veteran Persephone Hagan in 42nd, newcomer Julia Hammond 57th, top veteran over-55 Sue Baker in 58th and Catherine Betts 60th.
By finishing third behind Arena 80 and Brighton & Hove, Chichester confirmed their bronze medal and will look forward to building on it next season.
Going in the other direction over the past two seasons have been the club’s senior men’s team with James Baker often ploughing a lonely furrow with the club’s veterans in support.
It was a similar story at Lancing with Baker scoring another top-two finish with second place behind improving Kev Mason from host club Worthing.
Behind Baker, six of Chichester’s seven runners were well into their veteran category with Dave Dorning in 56th and Rob Wiggins 64th filling the top two over-60 slots of the day.
Andy Maynard was next home in 67th followed by James Woodward in 81st, Tom Blaylock 98th, John Betts 112th and Peter Shaw 116th. Starting next season in division three for the first time, Chichester’s men can look to the women counterparts for the inspiration to bounce back.
The meeting at Lancing started with the two youngest age groups and just two under-13s were in action - Brodie Keates was eighth in the boys’ race and Chloe Croad 20th in the girls.
Chichester’s new crop of under-11s showed good form and promise for next season.
Ned Potter, winner of the Corporate Challenge a few days earlier, showed the other Sussex athletes a clean pair of heels and held off a strong challenge from the runner-up to record another win. And there was good packing from Harry Sage in fifth and Jeremy Sharp in sixth with Joe Careswell and Jonathan McGough lending good support in 15th and 16th.
Caitlin Brown flew the flag for Chichester with a fine fourth in the girls’ race to cap an excellent all-round season for the club.