Harriers National League teams miss out in the closest of finishes

Herne Hill Harriers had a busy weekend with the final fixtures of the senior National Leagues, which saw track and field teams from the club in action with the women at the UK Women’s Athletics League (UKWAL) in Basingstoke and the men undertaking a long British Athletics League (BAL) trip to Glasgow, going up north of the border on Friday and competing on Saturday.

The UKWAL team came agonisingly close to being promoted from UKWAL Division 3 – only 0.5 points away – after an exciting and tense struggle which lasted throughout the afternoon. It was a tremendous effort from the women in red and black in a very exciting match but with a couple of star field events athletes unavailable and with no specialist jumpers at all the Harriers team struggled to score points in several field events.

It fell to the middle distance section to provide the largest number of team points and Herne Hill were by some way the most dominant club overall on the track on the day. There were double A and B string wins in the 800m through Helena Corbin 2.17.16 and Fiona de Mauny 2.17.46, the 1500m with winning league debuts for Phoebe Anderson 4.43.89 and Molly Pocock 4.44.96 and 400m hurdles thanks to Zoe Tompkins 67.81 and Katie Balme 72.95. In addition Balme won the 2000m steeplechase in 7.34.50 and Herne Hill won the 4 x 400m relay in 4.03.66 courtesy of de Mauny, Corbin, Pocock and Tompkins

In the sprints Lillian Matmola was second in the 100m A and 200m B races but there was a crucial setback when the Harriers athlete in the B string 100m was disqualified for a false start. Tompkins filled in at long jump and along with Balme ran the 100m hurdles and then Tompkins and Corbin were part of the sprint relay team as well as the 4 x 400m team! In the 3000m there was a big PB for Aimee Hargreaves who was fourth in 10.35.80 and Julia Wedmore won the B string in 11.04.59. 

Throughout the afternoon Herne Hill lost vital points in several close finishes as it became clear the result was going to be very close, Harriers best field events placing coming from new recruit Jennifer Sheasby second with 2.30m in the pole vault.

The women’s team has greatly improved and regained respectability as a team this summer but the club will need to address weaknesses in the field events (with a few notable exceptions) before next year’s National League campaign when promotion will again be the target. 

The Herne Hill BAL team result – 5th of 8 teams – in Glasgow was also very decent on the day itself but was sadly insufficient for Harriers to avoid relegation to Division 3 for next year. Whilst themiddle distance runners made a huge contribution to the women’s result the middle distance men’s attendance in Glasgow was threadbare, but the three men who did make the long trip were excellent

Mike Cummings ran a great 800/1500m double,placing 2nd in 1.55.92 and 4th in 3.58.08 and he then jogged around the 5000m in the absence of any other takers from the club to fill the B string. Jeff Cunningham filled in the B 800m, placed 5th in the A string 3000m steeplechase and was the other 5000m filler in the team. Duane Matthews made his HHH track team scoring debut at the highest club team level and he did superbly to place 7th in the B 400h in 72.57, was 4th in the B steeplechase in 11.13.80 and 7th in the B 1500 in another PB 4.55.83.

Herne Hill sprinters garnered a big points haul as Marvin Popoola won the A 100m and 200m against strong opposition, with Byron Robinson a clear winner of the B 200m after narrowly losing out in the B 100m where he was a close 2nd. These two teamed up with Peter Phillips and Daryl Thomas to placed 3rd in the sprint relay.

The other event in which saw Herne Hill dominance was the shot put, where Michael Wheeler won the A string with 15.30m and multi eventer Thomas Ashby made a very welcome return to the team not only winning the B string with 13.99m but was actually 2nd overall.

Ashby’s value to the team was demonstrated across the seven events he contested, as he also placed 2nd in the A discus, 3rd in the A triple jump, 4th in the A high junp, 4th in the B long jump, 6th in the A 110m hurdles and 8th in the A javelin for a busy day’s work!

Other good scorers were Isaac Ogunlade 3rd in the A 400m hurdles and 4th in the B 400m and SebWison Dyer Gough 4th in the A long jump. Under 17 Memphis Ayoade cleared 1.70m in the B high jump to score more valuable points, but ultimately the team fell short of the 3rd place in the match that would have avoided relegation after a very poor first match of the season at Chelmsford back in June.

Overall Herne Hill saw two valiant team efforts with those who made themselves available, but next year more of the top male athletes must prioritise these big match fixtures if the club is to bounce back up to Division 2.

On Friday evening Raj Paranandi achieved his sub 4.50 target at the SOAR mile races at the Olympic Park track by the London Stadium with his 4.49.96 while at the Birmingham University meet SaskiaMillard was part of a 4 x 800m relay team from the host Uni who came very close to setting a new British under 20 women’s record for the event.

Geoff Jerwood