Westlake Boys' High School has carved out an impressive reputation over the past few years for middle-distance running excellence but have had more than their share of disappointment over the past nine months.
In December, a whole group of their runners who had targeted the New Zealand Schools Road Race and made the journey from the North Shore to Wellington did not run as the race was cancelled due to rough weather.
In April, they should have been representing New Zealand as a school at the ISF World Schools Cross Country in Slovakia – that was cancelled.
Last week the New Zealand Schools Cross Country was cancelled and Westlake immediately expressed interest in the School Team Challenge race to be held this Saturday on the Whanganui Collegiate School Golf Course.
The event will be going ahead but, sadly, without the large Westlake team as Auckland is still on level 2.5. They, along with us the organisers, were sorry there was no change of alert level for Auckland.
They will be missed in the boys' races where their presence would have added to the strong teams from Wellington College, New Plymouth Boys' High School and hosts Whanganui Collegiate School.
Those schools have featured prominently in the boys' teams event in recent years and Westlake would have added further depth to the boys' teams races.
The girls also have some strong schools entered, featuring teams from Wellington Girls', Palmerston North Girls', New Plymouth Girls' and Havelock North High School with local interest provided by Nga Tawa and hosts Whanganui Collegiate.
There is added spice to the Senior Girls' team events with Collegiate seeking to reverse the team win of Nga Tawa at the same venue at the Whanganui Schools back in mid-August. Sadly, other no other Whanganui schools are participating.
The Nga Tawa effort will be spearheaded by Emma Fergusson, who once again moves up to the Senior Grade to join Adelaide Roper and Harriet Whitlock. They were the winning trio at Whanganui Schools in mid-August.
Mackenzie Morgan, who won at Whanganui Schools, is the leading Collegiate runner with Sarah Matthews, unavailable for the Whanganui event, back in action. Matthews was third at the Collegiate cross country.
George Lambert (Collegiate), who was a runaway winner at Whanganui Schools and was runner-up at the New Zealand Cross Country Challenge in Dunedin a few days later, will relish the competition provided by the strong Wellington College and New Plymouth Boys' High School teams. This includes fellow New Zealand Schools International Mac Rowe from New Plymouth Boys' High.
Daniel Sinclair (Collegiate) is another athlete who should benefit from the competition provided. Sinclair won the Whanganui Schools and the Collegiate junior titles by very big margins. However, he faded just a little over the final kilometre of the track 3000 metres last Sunday, where he paid the penalty of going through the 2km in a personal best time, which suggests he could do well over 3000 metres on his home cross country course.
Josephine Perkins and Louise Brabyn were in Collegiate's gold medal team last year at the New Zealand Schools Championships in Timaru. Brabyn, still 13 at the time of last year's championships and running up a grade, was particularly impressive.
Brabyn won the Collegiate Junior race with team-mate and junior captain Perkins finishing behind Mackenzie Morgan at the Collegiate Intermediate Championship. Perkins headed Brabyn at the Whanganui Schools.
In team running, big responsibility falls on the third and fourth runners and Annabel Symes and Pascale Bowie are vital team athletes.
The Whanganui Collegiate Year 9 girls' team impressed at Whanganui Schools taking first (Theodora Gempton), second (Mady Petley) and fourth (Franca Morrah) and, on past experience, had a realistic chance of team medals in both the 3- and 6-to-score event at the cancelled New Zealand School Championships.
That is an opportunity that will never return for these promising Year 9 athletes but Saturday's competition, where they face teams from five other schools, is both a challenge and some consolation – no pressure, girls!
Races start at 10.10am for the combined Year 9 and Junior Girls' race with the Seniors starting at 11am. The Boys' combined Junior and Year 9 Race is at 12.30pm with Seniors at 1.15pm.
Races have been separated to allow runners to leave the area to keep the event under Covid-19 level 2 restrictions.
Limited parent spectators can enter the ground by the Glasgow St entrance to a separate area observing social distancing. There is also good viewing of the spectator-friendly course from the fence outside of the ground on the London/Glasgow St corner where just about the whole course can be seen.