FULL REPORT: Berkhamsted SC pip second place after dramatic finish in National Arena League

Berkhamsted SC's members celebrate after the opening National Arena League meet of the season in Enfield.
Berkhamsted SC's members celebrate after the opening National Arena League meet of the season in Enfield.

Berkhamsted SC were back in National League Action at the weekend, with an exciting denouement seeing the club snatch second place overall.

A year after relegation to Division Two of the London League, the visit to the Southbury Road pool in Enfield was viewed with some trepidation as a number of normally first-choice swimmers were unavailable for the toughest assignment of the year in the club’s league programme.

However, the coaching team need not have worried, as the squad pulled together in the ‘it’s all about the team’ way that the club is known for.

Every swimmer surpassed expectations on the night, said the club’s head coach Geoff Wood.

In the final analysis, the club’s 36 swimmers claimed nine first-place finishes, eight second-place spots and eight thirds from the 50 events.

And after a close fight all night with near-neighbours Stevenage, it came down to the final relay to decide which club finished second behind runaway leaders Swiss Cottage, with just one point separating the two clubs.

Berkhamsted pulled off the results they needed to finish second in a dramatic finish.

The night began with Ellen Northwood having to unexpectedly swim the Open 200m individual medley (IM) and, as usual, she raced hard to her fastest time in the last 18 months (2:43.02) for a County Consideration Time (CCT).

That was followed by Zac Patel, who led after the fly leg and posted his second-best time of 2:20.17, slotting him into the County Championships in 2019. Both are part of the club captaincy team and led by example.

The under-11s girls and boys freestyle relay teams both came third (Ruby Liddle, Phoebe Goss, Lara Connell and Eva Lawson; Lawson Gray, William Barnes, Cole Moore and Eric Batt) – all first-timers in Arena League – clocking 2:22.20 and 2:30.82 respectively.

For the 12/13 girls’ medley team, Emma Hockney led off in a 50m backstroke personal best (PB) of 40.34, followed by Tamsin Moren on the breaststroke, Lara Coster on the fly and Abbie Briers on the freesyle as they stormed to second place in 2:26.65.

The boys, Alex Kalverboer, George Gray, Pierce Philbin and David Graham, rocked home in 2:34.358 for fifth place, fighting hard to maintain their position throughout.

The 14/15 girls’ freestyle team brought home the first win of the night. After a superb PB lead-off 50m from Abi Hewson (29.26), Vicky Ayles, Evie Watson and a flying Issy Soulsby brought the team home in 2:02.47 to win by a second.

The boys, George Thorne and late additions, due to injuries, Omar and Yazeed Swarray-Deen, came home fifth in 1:57.62.

In the final two relays from the first part of the meet, the Open 200 medley squads of Izzy Sansom, Molly Baker, masters swimmer Tracy Van Deventer and Caitlin Kelley for the women and Ish Rahim, Harry Thorne, Patel and Callum Bullock posted 2:32.86 and 2:00.88 respectively.

The individual events resumed and saw William Barnes lower his 50m backstroke by two seconds to 48.20 and Tamsin Moren claimed the first individual win of the night in the 12/13 100m breaststroke. She led from the start and had to fight hard in the final 25m to clock 1:23.94 – her fastest this year – and lower her County Qualification Time (CQT) in the process.

Kalverboer (CCT) and Hewson (CQT) in the 12/13 100m breaststroke and 14/15 100m backstroke both set PB times of 1:30.35 and 1:10.36, with Hewson looking mightily impressive winning her heat by four seconds.

George Thorne dropped his 100m backstroke time to 1:10.11 for third place, but injured his hand in the process.

Northwood claimed a CCT in 1:14.01 in the Open fly in fourth and the club’s ability at fly was then reinforced with Rahim winning his Open fly in 1:01.81, leading from gun to pad. Eva Lawson took second in her 10/11 fly with a typically feisty 40.08 and Lawson Gray lowered his week-old PB in the fly to 42.56.

Lara Coster does not race regularly but her 1:23.77 time in the 12/13 girls’ 100m backstroke showed she should do so more as she improved by over eight seconds and Kalverboer then picked up third in the boys’ category (1:18.90).

Issy Soulsby was unlucky to be have a Did Not Finish (DNF) in her 100m fly when, after leading for 95m, she swallowed some water and choked, having to stop in distress, en course for what would have been a good four-second improvement.

Yazeed Swarray-Deen stepped in to swim the 100m fly for the first time, replacing the injured George Thorne, finishing to a big round of applause.

Izzy Sansom was just a second off her 100m backstroke best, showing well-honed skills around the wall and Owen Strakosch completed another 18-month best in the boys’ Open backstroke (1:10.46).

Connell’s good night continued as she chopped a massive six seconds from her 50m breaststroke best in 48.80 and Cole Moore delivered a three-second improvement in his breaststroke with 52.58.

The next PB was from Tom Holmes-Higgin, who has refound his fly stroke over the longer distances, posting 1:26.85 before Soulsby put her fly disappointment behind her by smashing out a 100m freestyle PB. Her aggressive swim lowered her best to 1:04.32 and a CCT in January, hitting the touch pads some two seconds ahead of her field.

She was followed immediately by another win for the club courtesy of Dan Chennells in the boys’ Open freestyle with 58.39, easing down as he was well clear in the last 25m.

The 13-year-old Moren stepped into the Open 100m breaststroke and almost exactly repeated her time from the age-group race, clocking 1:24.10 to finish third against much older swimmers.

Eva Lawson had something in hand in the 10/11 50m freestyle, winning in 33.96, while Eric Batt took third in the boys’ race.

Abigail Briers was also third in the 12/13 100m freestyle and David Graham was fourth for the boys, smashing his own PB by nearly five seconds, clocking 1:11.02.

Evie Watson, swimming in her first competition for nearly two years, showed why she has been missed, leading her 14/15 breaststroke for the first 75m before coming home eight seconds faster than she had ever swum before in 1:26.55 and a first CCT on her comeback trail.

She was followed by Chennells in an unfamiliar role as a breaststroker but, again, he lowered his PB by nearly nine seconds to come home in a surprising but very valuable second place.

Ish Rahim provided himself with another comfortable CQT in the final individual event of the night, the male Open 100m freestyle, just pipped at the end in a fine 57.97.

In the second round of relays, the 9/11 girls’ squad backed up their third-place finish in the freestyle relay with a fourth place in the medley, posting 2:57.07, while the boys stepped up a spot, taking second in 2:59.62.

The 12/13 girls all stepped up to the plate as they placed Abbie Briers in on the anchor leg with still a bit to do to try to go one better than their medley third place. She did not disappoint, slamming down the final 25m to a rising crescendo of noise and taking the win in the last five metres in a split of 31.39.

The 14/15 girls made it a relay double with Ayles anchoring them home in the medley relay to a clear-water victory after another lead off PB from Hewson on her backstroke leg and solid breaststroke and fly swims from Watson and Soulsby.

The end of the evening is always the 6 x 50m Open freestyle relays, fast and furious all the way. The girls led out and as the final boys’ event loomed, the team were in third place in the team standings, just one point behind long-term rivals on the night, Stevenage.

Patel led off in 26.49, Strakosch went faster than ever before with 28.04, Bullock repeated that feat with a 28.54, Rahim clocked a 26.52 leg and then Harry Thorne 27.27, for his fastest-ever time, handed over to Dan Chennells for the glory leg. And with a 26.48 time, he anchored them home to second place in the race and second overall by just four points to finish an extraordinary evening of effort by all the swimmers.

Head coach Wood said: “As the race season gets into full swing, we showed we have the athletes to step into the breach when needed and the team spirit to overcome obstacles, supporting each other all the way.”