English Schools Athletics Association Cross Country Cup: National Final

The grey clouds and incessant drizzle that typically characterise a Saturday cross country fixture were nowhere in sight.  The sun was out on the morning of the ESAA Cross Country Cup Final – unusual for early December, but this was to be an extraordinary day in many ways. Just twenty-four hours earlier, twelve of The Grove’s best junior runners were having breakfast and a final pep-talk from Olympic tri-athletes Jonny Brownlee and Gordon Benson. Now they were journeying to Derbyshire to take part in the most important race they’ve run to date. Although race day nerves were apparent, the Junior Boys and Junior Girls squads knew that they had broken school records before they even set foot on the course: 2019 is the first year that The Grove has ever qualified for the national cup final.

The course itself was undulating and muddy, with a flat, fast start and a tricky sloping finish round a sharp corner. The Junior Boys squad put in an admirable performance, despite tough conditions in the field. Archie Peaker came back from an early fall, surging through a fast front pack to make up over thirty places, finishing in 13th. He was followed by Joey Hall (81st), Ayomide Solaru (108th), Cameron Bojas (133rd) and Jacob Best (134th). Junior Boys’ Captain, Harry Bates (142nd), soldiered on after injuring his calf on the first lap, showing real resilience and running hard for his team, despite the pain. The boys team finished in 24th place overall, and showed real focus and determination in one of the toughest schools’ races out there.

The Junior Girls’ race followed – and these talented young ladies did not disappoint. You couldn’t miss the Grove girls, who arrived at the start line in matching ice-cream-themed compression socks. The race itself was equally memorable. Maisey Bellwood (our “secret weapon”, to quote her teammates) put in an outstanding performance – pacing herself near the front of the pack during the first half, settling into second position for the majority of the second half of the lap and gliding into first place comfortably in the last 200m of the race. She was followed not long after by Junior Girls’ Captain, Georgina Rayner (34th), Mabel Walker (67th), Eilidh Molloy (79th), Phoebe Turner (80th) and Grace Ross (98th). The girls’ team finished 7th place overall – a remarkable feat considering not only that this was their first time in the national cup final, but also that over 530 schools had entered in the first rounds.

Our amazing Grove support team, consisting of parents, staff and club Captain, Ben Hill, had all given up their Saturday to assist with the warm-ups, apply muscle-rub, tape-up spikes and cheer loudly. So it was a treat to attend the presentations and watch Maisey collect her winner’s certificate: the 2nd ‘National Champion’ title she has won following her fell running success earlier in the term.   

Congratulations to everyone who ran, you made us proud and we hope that this is the first of many national competitions to come.  #Iamgrovian