Whanganui has long punched above its weight in major athletics meetings, and on the evidence of the short pre-Whanganui Schools Championship events at Tuesday's weekly club night this looks set to continue.
Tuesday featured the Whanganui Schools 300m hurdles (four grades), 2000m steeplechase (four grades) and the hammer (two open grades) held in conjunction with the usual weekly club night events, providing an exciting 90 minutes of action and an enticing entrée to the main course at next Wednesday's Whanganui Secondary Schools Championships at Cooks Gardens.
The return to alert level 1 allowed more participants than the level 2 events held in February. One hopes next week's Whanganui Schools event does not suffer the fate of last year's championships, which was cancelled the day before the scheduled event as the country moved towards last year's full lockdown.
The Whanganui Schools district is the second smallest, both in terms of schools and population, of the 12 regions that make up the North Island Schools Championships scheduled for the week after Easter in Hamilton. Only Wairarapa has fewer schools and a smaller population base.
Nga Tawa has now affiliated with Manawatu Schools, leaving only eight schools in the Whanganui region that will hopefully compete next week at the region's Secondary Schools Championships.
This compares with the 70-plus schools in Waikato and the four regions that make up the Auckland Schools district. With the exception of Whanganui High, school rolls are small. Whanganui Collegiate is the second largest, and with a roll of 459 is less than a third of High. On the 2020 school rolls no other of the eight schools topped 400 students.
Whanganui Collegiate School and Whanganui High School will have the largest entries next week, with almost 100 entries from each school. Following the success of Whanganui High in December's New Zealand Schools at Tauranga and in the 2019 edition where Whanganui Collegiate and Whanganui High School were respectively first and second in top eight performances, the two schools are expected to be prominent next week.
In the short Tuesday Schools programme of what might be described as "esoteric" events, honours were shared mainly by the two largest schools with national class athletes to the fore over hurdles (300m) and barriers (2000m steeplechase).
New Zealand Schools 300m hurdles champion Maggie Jones (High School) looked classy in the senior girls, winning from fellow High School athletes Casey Glentworth and Charlotte Baker. Jones stopped the clock in 45.35, winning by a couple of seconds.
Charlotte Baker completed the High School trio, with Paige Cromarty (Girls College) closely behind in fourth. Nat Kirk (High School), bronze medal winner at New Zealand Schools in Tauranga, took the boys' title (40.06) narrowly from teammate and rapidly improving Flynn Johnston in less than 0.3 seconds in arrears. Daniel Taylor (Collegiate) was third.
The injured Finn O'Sullivan (Collegiate) hopes to be back in action by April to give Whanganui three leading exponents in Hamilton. Noah Jones (High School) was fourth across the line and was the leading junior (45.95)
Teresa Rennie (High School) won the junior girls' 300m hurdles in an encouraging 49.51, with promising Collegiate sprinter Bella Willis preventing a Rennie (Carrie) first and second. All three athletes are likely to feature strongly next week.
While the 300m hurdles produced a whole raft of podium finishes for Whanganui High School, Whanganui Collegiate dominated the steeplechases. Nationally ranked George Lambert won the senior boys (6:26.26) from his younger Collegiate teammate Daniel Sinclair, with race walker Lucas Martin finishing a very damp third after problems at the water jump.
Sinclair's brother Mathew (Collegiate) won the junior boys by three-hundredths of a second from teammate Toby Caro, reversing a similarly close finish over 1,500 metres at the Collegiate Inter House last month, that time in Caro's favour.
Junior Louise Brabyn (Collegiate) ran a personal best to win the combined girls' race (7:48.78) from teammate Theodora Gempton, with Lucy Monckton (Collegiate) taking the senior title closely behind Gempton.
Olivia Pickford (Rangitikei College) won the girls' hammer (32.12m) from Vaetini Reweti (Girls College, 30.93); both athletes are likely to feature in throws next week. Konradd Newland (Collegiate) took the boys' title with 25.72m.
The Whanganui Secondary Schools Championships, which starts at 11.15am next Wednesday, will provide six hours of athletic action, with athletes from throughout the region vying for titles and a place in the Whanganui Schools Team to the North Island Schools in Hamilton on the weekend of April 10 and 11.