Sunderland Harriers’ men aiming for a top-10 finish in the Northern Athletics Cross Country Championships

Michael Laws.
Michael Laws.
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Sunderland Harriers senior men’s team bid for a top-10 place in the Northern Athletics Cross Country Championships at Blackburn on Saturday.

The Wearsiders finished 16th last year at Pontefract Racecourse and fourth North East team, with 70 teams closing in.

This time at Witton Park, the Wearsiders have shuffled their pack and depend on Ian Dixon, Steve McMahon, Kevin Jeffress, Steve Potts, Nathan Reed, Matt Devlin, Paul Blakey, Michael Edwards and Michael Laws in the six-to-count team race.

Last year, they had four runners inside the first 104 finishers in a field of 700, with Kevin Jeffress 56th, Craig Isherwood 66th, Nathan Reed 71st and Liam Roarty 104th.

But they had to wait until 238th and 387th positions before the team closed in.

With Dixon, Jeffress and McMahon in good form after winning the veterans’ Durham Cathedral relay title 10 days ago, they should all be capable of a place in the first 100.

Reed also had a good run in the senior relay and he should improve on his position of last year.

Sunderland Harriers have only won the team championship once at Thirsk in 1986 when Steve Cram won the individual title over a frozen course.

The team counters that day were Glenn Forster, Graham Smith, Dave Hill, Calum Bark, Paul Taylor and Brian Rushworth, who won the individual title in 1989 at Graves Park in Sheffield. The last team medals won were bronze in 1991.

Sunderland women’s team is also looking for improvement at Blackburn and their target is a place in the first 30.

They will be relying on Colleen Compson, Emma North, Sarah O’Mahoney and Nicola Woodward, to deliver that performance.

The Northern Championship is the final race for those athletes looking for selection for the North East teams for the Inter Counties Championships in Birmingham in March.

Teams from under-13 to seniors will be selected when selectors meet on Sunday at Gateshead to finalise teams.

Sunderland Harriers will be looking for Jess Fox (under-20 women), Mark Smith and Jonny Howe (under-20 men), Sean Mackie (under-17 men), Eve Quinn and Sarah Knight (under-15 girls) and Connor Prior (under-13 boys) to show good form to put themselves in the selectors spotlight.

Houghton Harriers will be relying on Nicolle Phillips (under-13 girls), Henry Johnson, Will Bellamy (under-13 boys), Jamie Reed and Matthew Phillips (under-15 boys) and Alex Brown (under-17 men).

Jamie Reed (the North East champion) and Nicolle Phillips (runner-up) have both been pre-selected through their North East Championship performances.

Chester-le-Street’s Ian Bloomfield, who bids to beat his own over-60s British marathon record (2.44.27) in the London Marathon in April, is in good form after clocking 1.20.34 in the Brass Monkey half marathon in York to top the UK rankings.

Jack Martin had some local support when he won his first international race in Hong Kong.

There to cheer him on was his former Sunderland Harrier clubmate Gavin Massingham, who works as an English teacher there. Martin won the Standard Charter 10k road race in 31.45.

Medals have been awarded for Sunderland Strollers’ four winter handicaps, they were: October: Liam Watson, Andrew Hodgson, Laurentio Craciunas. Women: Clare Webber, Charlie Stephenson, Joanne Hall.

November: Ed Sweeney, Brian Johnston, David Arkley. Women: Leanne Scott, Julie Cook, Kelly Hutchinson.

December: Andrew Forbes, Mickey Enguita, Brendan O’Grady. Women: Ali Foster, Christine Sayer, Charlie Stephenson.

Brendan O’Grady and Rebecca Calvert were fastest male and female in all three races.

January: Mickey Enguita, Terry Topping, Richard Wilson. Women: Chloe Johnson, Nichola Morrow, Gill Bainbridge.

Fastest Male: Declan Munnelly. Fastest Female: Jenna Maynard.