Heavy rain in the morning and the resulting wet conditions did not prevent Sarah Lambert and Liam Back setting outstanding times on their way to predicted senior Wanganui Collegiate cross country senior titles on the Collegiate Golf Course circuit on Wednesday.
The races, ten days out from the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships, doubled as final selection trials.
Running on the championship course used for the national secondary school champis in 2005, all be it a little shorter to save the No1 Rugby ground for the Quadrangular Tournament next month, both Lambert and Back set outstanding winning times and solid winning margins.
Back was closely followed over the first half of the race by training partner William Sinclair, both covering the opening kilometre in under three minutes.
Back then struck at the halfway mark, with Sinclair finishing some 20 seconds in arrears, much closer than at the Whanganui Schools champs, which bodes well for New Zealand Schools in ten days at Taupo.
Zach Bellamy, who had finished second in the Whanganui Schools event, settled for third and confessed to feeling a little tired after his Hughes Memorial win in Hawera at the weekend.
Sinclair also was a winner in Hawera in the combined Under 20 senior men grade, but treated the weekend race as a relaxed preparation for the Collegiate event.
Lambert impressed in the Senior Girls event with her best ever performance, and a time that ranks right up with the best on record for the course. Marseille Bowie was almost a minute behind, finishing with her personal best on the course, with the increasingly consistent Sarah Mathews in third. The three will form the core of a solid senior girl's team in Taupo.
Ashleigh Alabaster, who a fortnight ago won the Whanganui Schools Under 16 title, repeated her win with a time that would have gained second in the senior event.
Alabaster relished the wet conditions, moving easily over the heavy surface and again demonstrated she has the potential to finish in the Top 10 in Taupo, which earns a coveted Top 10 diploma.
Year 9 Whanganui Schools winner Josephine Perkins was second with Maddison Gray completing the podium positions.
Perkins has opted to run in the strong Under 16 team at New Zealand Schools, rather than run in the Year 9 race.
Ben Conder, younger brother of former Collegiate champion and New Zealand School's international representative Christian Conder, won the Intermediate Boys race and will run as part of the senior team in Taupo.
Thomas Pease impressed taking the junior title and will run in his first New Zealand Schools Championships in Taupo.
All four of Collegiate's Houses had at least one team win in the five grades contested, with Grey prevailing narrowly overall over the much improved Harvey House.
The standards competition, run in conjunction, is so close that at the time of going to press they are being re-checked with Grey declared as provisional winners.
On the evidence of the races on Wednesday and the Whanganui Schools event, Collegiate will be fielding strong combinations in both Senior grades and in the Junior Girls.
The boys will rely on the strength of Liam Back and close support from the Sinclair brothers and Zach Bellamy and further support in the six to score from Ben Conder, Geordie Ellis and Ethan Gillespie.
The junior girls will be spearheaded by Ashleigh Alabaster with support from Josephine Perkins, Maddison Gray, Lucy Brown and Jessica Johnstone, who had run so well in Hawera at the weekend.
Ana Brabyn, who so impressed on the track and was Collegiate's leading Year 9 scorer last year, will hopefully be back in action in Taupo and will use Saturday's Dorne Cup as a proof of fitness test, as will George Lambert who has been sidelined for three weeks.
Next week, I will preview the New Zealand Schools Championships and the Regional Relay Team races, the latter to be held at the same venue on the day following the championship, June 16-17.