At the end of an intriguing match which saw sharp changes between the top 3 clubs through the day, WGEL finished runner-up to hosts Luton but ahead of Serpentine in match 4 of the Southern Athletics League (SAL) on Saturday 14 July. From the start it was obviously a 3-way battle, with our regular rivals this season Ilford set for fourth and West Norfolk and West Suffolk providing cameos from a handful of good athletes without supporting teams.
It quickly became clear that Serpentine were aiming to win via filling the teamsheet, and with no gaps they took a notable lead early on. However as the day wore on quality told and it became a battle between the hosts, who were strongest overall in the women and Woodford with a stronger men’s squad. Bad luck and injuries in our men’s team ultimately made the difference after a fine struggle on a warm day at a venue whose bowl shape seemed to lock in heat but encouraged some good performances by minimising wind.
Female athlete of the match was Denesha Rocastle (photo above) who underlined her significant recent improvement by taking the long jump in a 5.24m PB and then added over 40cm to her triple jump best to take the win in 10.52. Denesha also won the B 100m (13.1), with Rebecca Fafowora taking the A in 12.9 (=PB) along with ensuring full points in the TJ with 10.20m. They later teamed up with Rhianna Buaku and Nicole Alves to convincingly win the 4x100 in 50.7.
Male athlete of the match was Ahmed Abdulle (photo left) who just missed out on breaking 4 minutes in the 1500 despite some pace making by Ryan McKinlay, while the B string was won by U17 Sam Sloan. No-one had a more eventful day than Ryan, whose car broke down on the way to the match. This meant he missed the 400m hurdles, but made up for it by stepping in to take his first win in a pole vault competition (2.45) and also the 110m hurdles. However a calf injury led to a DNF in his specialist event, the 3k steeplechase which, despite a PB by Rob Wilbraham (11:00.0), lost us the overall lead which we were unable to regain.
Our throws squad was relatively strong, but was unable to gain many points over the hosts who were also rarely out of the top 2. For the men, while Hugh Williams (SP), Devon Douglas (DT) and Peter Clarke (HT) took their respective A strings, only Fergus Harford (HT) was able to take a B string. Grantas Mockaitis in the N/S DT beat Hugh for the first time, while also covering our A string HJ and JT. Emmaline Okafor narrowly missed in the women’s hammer (which saw a welcome return to competition for Beccy Knapp to win the B) but was our top individual points scorer covering all the throws including winning the shot and B DT. Eike Vardja took the javelin but in the discus was another edged out by Luton.
It was a shame that this was our only fixture without photo-finish as the conditions were conducive to some fast times. Among those running their fastest were U17 Kyra Boyce (2nd in the 200A in 27.4 and 13.2 in the non-scoring 100) and Rhianna Buaku (27.8 200B and 13.3 100). Vee Joshi (photo below) continued his recent run of PBs to win the B 400 in 52.1, following home Adrian Richards who took the A string in 51.0. New members Sikiru Onigbanjo and Winfred Hakeem ran 11.7 in their 100s. Joey O’Neill was impressive taking the 100B string in 11.3 but unfortunately suffered a hamstring tear while leading the B 200m. The conditions were not so helpful for the 3k, but U17 Ben Sloan still set a PB of 9:47.6 despite being hampered by an ankle injury.
Heptathlete Jade Currie won the 100m hurdles, B string SP and B string LJ. Even busier was Phoebe Fuhr who, after taking her specialist PV with a single jump, won the B hurdles, was 3rd in the HJ and then stepped into the 1500 steeplechase to try and keep the match alive, to no avail when Luton won both A and B strings. Keith Newton surprisingly won the A triple jump (11.95) but team manager Alan James had to step into the pit in the B string after an injury to Ola Ogunade in the LJ. Despite missing Joey and Ola, the men’s 4x100 team were unlucky not to win, but the remaining relay teams were all successful. The women’s 4x400 team won with Nicole Alves able to coast round thanks to Temi Olusesan, Rhianna Bauku, and a 65.2 debut split from Kyra Boyce. The men remain unbeaten in this year’s SAL at 4x400 (Vee Joshi, Videsh Weerakkody, Sam Barker, Adrian Richards).
The team manager would like to thank all those who officiated, with quite a few helping out for the first time at an SAL as most of our regular officials were working at the Athletics World Cup. Also thanks to Alex Wardle, who may not have taken as many photos as usual due to having to double up over 5k and then 1500.
The result leaves promotion out of division 3N still possible but with 4 teams fighting for 2 remaining places. Woodford may need to beat Watford at our final, home, fixture by a wide margin to go up, but the outcome is complicated due to the other top-5 clubs, Dacorum&Tring, Basildon and Luton facing off in their last match. The stronger our team at the final match the less likely we will have to resort to calculators and waiting for news from the other fixture, but the third and last promotion place will almost certainly be down to countback. Hopefully many of you will be there to see the conclusion at Ashton Playing Fields on Saturday 18 August.