The anxious wait is over for 16-year-old Ashleigh Alabaster who was named in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country team to Slovakia next year.

Alabaster completed her expression of interest form for the World Secondary Schools Cross Country soon after June's New Zealand Schools Cross Country at Timaru which was the main trial for the team. As the age group is under 18 at the end of next year it ruled out many of the 16 girls who finished ahead of Alabaster in Timaru.

Alabaster was informed of her inclusion in the team of six by email late last week, but she could not afford to celebrate until the official announcement on Monday.

Alabaster will be joined in Slovakia by her Collegiate teammate George Lambert. Lambert gains his first black singlet at the end of next week when he joins the 12-strong NZ Schools team competing at the Australian Championships in Wollongong, NSW.

George Lambert is to compete in both the Australian Schools cross country champs and worlds in Slovakia. Photo / Rob van Dort
George Lambert is to compete in both the Australian Schools cross country champs and worlds in Slovakia. Photo / Rob van Dort

Lambert enhanced his chances for selection by finishing 7th at the NZ Championships at Upper Hutt 10 days ago. Ana Brabyn (Collegiate) has been named in the Non travelling reserves.

Whanganui Collegiate School has been well-represented at the biannual ISF World Schools Cross Country competed for by up to 30 countries (mostly from Europe although Australia and New Zealand have regularly competed).

The competition has two separate races for each gender. One race for a team representing an individual school and followed by a representative team race.

Whanganui Collegiate was represented by the boys school team in 2008 where they finished 5th and by the girls in 2010 when they finished 4th.

The school was nominated in 2016 and again this year with a strong bid especially in the boys. This year Westlake Boys' High School and St Peter's School Cambridge are the respective boys' and girls' teams.

Whanganui Collegiate had two members of the 2016 New Zealand team to Budapest with Jane Lennox in the girls and team captain Christian Conder in the boys. Two years later Liam Back was in the boys' team where he was second home in 15th position overall.

The biannual event has been attended by New Zealand teams since 2008 apart from 2014 in Israel where a team was not sent. The ISF event gives students a wonderful opportunity for international competition and travel.

The first NZ Schools Cross Country team was in 1976 when a team ran in Christchurch against a Victorian State team. Chris Fallows of Collegiate was in that inaugural team.


The next opportunity came five years later when a team competed at the Australian Schools in Launceston Tasmania. Whanganui had no runners, but your writer was part of management.

As travelling opportunities were not regular in either track and field or cross country in the late 1980s the New Zealand Schools Association selected annual "paper teams" (6-8 athletes in each gender for cross country and about 50 for track and field). Athletes in these "paper teams" can access travel subsidy for approved events from NZSSAA (up to $500 for European trips).

Those in that paper team can use their funding to defray costs in the selected teams to the ISF Schools or the now annual teams to the Australian Championships.

The Australian Championships became an annual opportunity from 2011. The team is selected following the annual NZ Schools Championships and is for up to 12 senior athletes in each gender.

Kate Jefferd and Antoine Bonnet (Collegiate) were in the first of these teams to Canberra. Mark Cornaga (Whanganui High School) was part of the management team.

Since then Jamie Wells, Geordie Beamish, Jane Lennox, Alice Bird. Christian Conder, Zach Bellamy (Collegiate) and Rebecca Baker (Whanganui High School) have all benefited from the transtasman opportunity. Over 12 other local athletes have appeared in the paper teams since the late 80s.

Next week a further five make that journey across the ditch with Liam Back, Rebecca Baker, Sarah Lambert and Andres Hernandez from the 13-strong paper team and thus gaining some financial support. The other team member is George Lambert.

They leave Whanganui next Wednesday.

The Australian Championships are in Wollongong on the Saturday. On the Monday there is a relay competition involving State Teams of 5 runners in which New Zealand will also field teams. The four who are not selected for relays will run in a separate race for athletes not in relay teams.