Comment: Cross country is a sport with no half-times, no time-outs, no breaks, no rolling sub. It is a demanding sport and an individual physical and mental challenge.
There is also a team aspect to the sport, often forgotten by many, with additional fitness benefits that transfer to other sports. The sport requires little equipment, so is one of our cheapest and most basic activities- there are good runners in every school who just need encouragement.
Athletes from throughout New Zealand will be tested as individuals and as teams at the annual New Zealand Secondary Schools in Hawera this weekend. There was no Championship last year because of Covid 19 and any comparison on numbers has to go back to Timaru, June 2019 .
The number of competitors has dropped to 740 but the 131 schools competing corresponds with recent figures and a slight improvement from 2019. The Taranaki venue has proved challenging for some and although close for our athletes has led to other logistic problems including up to three return journeys over the weekend.
While working on the lane draws where the number of entries from a school is taken into consideration, it was interesting to note how many schools had either two runners in a grade - just one short of a three to score team), or five runners (just one short of a six to score team).
Many schools had clearly not considered the lift athletes gain from being part of a team. It was also apparent that schools with large entries had enthusiastic managers and coaches. This was further highlighted by some "heavyweights" of the past having few if any entries since a change of coach. Those schools did not suddenly have no one who could run but possibly lacked someone driving the programme.
There are runners in every school just waiting to be noticed and encouraged,
The Whanganui region is small with only eight secondary schools. This reduced from nine after Nga Tawa joined Manawatu although they have been allowed to rejoin for the Sunday relays as Manawatu are not fielding a team.
The Marton school has seven athletes in Hawera with three-to-score teams in junior and senior girls. The senior team is led by the well performed Emma Fergusson who has the ability to gain a place in the top 10 and earn a coveted top 10 certificate and could even force her way into the New Zealand selected paper team (six or seven athletes).
Cullinane College is the only school in our region other than Whanganui Collegiate to enter athletes for the Championships. The Anderson brothers Charlie and Jacob are in the respective Year 9 and junior (under 16) races. Both will run on Sunday for the Whanganui team in the 5 x 2 kilometre relay.
Abby Peters runs in the senior girls and after her third place at Whanganui Schools is in the senior relay on Sunday.
Whanganui Collegiate is fielding the third largest team in New Zealand (40 athletes) and by far the largest coeducational team. The school has three and six to score teams in all grades except junior boys where they have just a three to score team.
Collegiate captain George Lambert was 13th at the 2019 championships in Timaru and ran for New Zealand Schools in Wollongong that season. Lambert was an impressive winner at the Whanganui Secondary Schools Championships and the Whanganui Collegiate Championships.
Lambert is back at his best after a loss of form at the end of last year and early this year. Recent performances including his strong race against promising Year 11 team mate Daniel Sinclair and triathlete Hunter Gibson along with a personal best last Saturday at Parkrun demonstrate that he is strong and back to his best and will hopefully lead his three and six to score teams to team success.
The Brabyn sisters Ana and Louise won their respective senior and Intermediate grades at the Whanganui Schools and Collegiate Schools with the younger Louise setting the fastest time in both. Their respective teams in Hawera are strong enough to keep up with the leading school combinations.
Mackenzie Morgan was second in the New Zealand Schools Road Race in December but serious injury kept her out of the sport in Term 1. Her promising second place in her first race back at the Whanganui Collegiate Championship a fortnight ago bodes well.
Maia Lupton heads a strong Year 9 contingent and impressed in the major local races as did Toby Caro in the under 16 grade.
Next year's event is in Nelson and hopefully the thought of a South Island trip will inspire more from Whanganui to participate.