The Secondary Schools Team Challenge followed by a similar event five days later in the South Island brought down the curtain on the cross country season more than a month later than usual. It is a crazy year in which the New Zealand Schools nationals, postponed from its usual third Saturday in June, was cancelled and the Athletics New Zealand Cross Country Championships was renamed the Athletics New Zealand Cross Country Challenge in recognition that Auckland athletes were unable to attend.
The challenge in Dunedin was also a few weeks later than usual. The later date has led to a condensed Road and Road Relay calendar made more complex with the Rotorua marathon held last Saturday, postponed from April. The New Zealand Road Championships are now after the start of the Track and Field Championships in early November in Auckland.
This closure of the season allows a chance to reflect on a very different season and how our runners fared. George Lambert, featured last week, was the most successful local runner. In April he should have been in Europe at the ISF Schools Cross Country but instead had a longer build-up in which he also successfully mixed with some 2nd XV Rugby.
The target had been the New Zealand Secondary Schools with the Athletics New Zealand Championships an important step on the way. In July he was second in the Manawatu/Whanganui Cross Country Championships finishing behind visiting Wellington athlete Will Anthony who had an outstanding track season following on from his silver medals behind Liam Back last year in the two New Zealand Championships.
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Lambert slightly narrowed the gap on Anthony in taking silver in the New Zealand Challenge, winning with a best time over 6000m and although Anthony was not in the field, Lambert indicated he had the ability to be among the leading age group runners.
Our two leading runners were Mackenzie Morgan and Emma Fergusson. Morgan has featured in earlier articles, winning the MWA title and also Whanganui Schools. Morgan found two races in a week (Whanganui Schools and the NZ Cross Country Challenge) very demanding and was a little off the pace in Dunedin.
Morgan finished third in the Teams Challenge on the Collegiate Golf Course behind Amy Carver (Wellington Girls) and Emma Fergusson (Nga Tawa). Fergusson, still an under 16 but moving up to bolster her team, had finished closely behind Morgan at the Whanganui Schools and ran superbly for second in the Teams Challenge.
Fergusson is an exciting prospect and I have no hesitation in naming her the outstanding junior who could have an exciting career.
Daniel Sinclair, who won the Whanganui Schools and the Junior Teams Challenge, was our leading junior runner and was featured last week. It is unfortunate that he did not have the chance to prove himself on the national stage but as a Year 10 athlete has three more years, although these are all in the senior ranks.
I was impressed with the depth of talent in the Year 9 group. Theodora Gempton, featured a few weeks ago, finished 4th in a strong Year 9 line-up in the Teams Challenge with Carrie Rennie (High School) 5th, running as a guest athlete. She is clearly an athlete to watch, as is Mady Petley one place further back reversing the order from Whanganui Schools.