Sunderland Harriers’ senior men bid to beat their performance of last year in the 111th North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships at Aykley Heads, Durham on Saturday.
They finished outside the team medals after being beaten on count back by Tyne Bridge Harriers for the bronze medals in the six-to-count team competition held in blizzard conditions at Sedgefield.
Over 40 clubs are entered for the men’s championship and Morpeth, Gateshead, Tyne Bridge, Durham and Sunderland, have emerged as the leading contenders for team medals.
Sunderland’s men’s team manager Albert James said: “I’m confident that we will do better than last year, we have a stronger team this time and more strength in depth.
“Morpeth Harriers are the clear favourites to retain the title, but the minor medals should be fought out between ourselves and the other contenders.”
Sunderland, 14 times winners of the championship, have been boosted by a number of new recruits determined to make their mark over the 12km challenging course.
They welcome former Gateshead Harrier Barry Maskell and former Morpeth Harrier Simon O’Donnell to their first championship in a Sunderland vest.
While Michael Wilson, second in the Junior Under-20 championship last year, makes his debut as a senior.
The club’s counters should come from any of the following: Kevin Jeffress, Steve McMahon, Andy Powell, Nathan Reed, Ian Dixon, Ian Ritchie, Sparrow Morley, Michael Barker, Barry Maskell, Simon O’Donnell, Michael Wilson and Michael Thompson.
The Wearsiders need to get runners nearer to the first 10 to get their team scoring off to a good start, as last year they had to wait until 18th position before their first runner finished.
The Sunderland counters then were Kevin Jeffress in 18th, Nathan Reed 24th, Steve McMahon 25th, Ian Dixon 31st, Liam Roarty 33rd and Matty Jones 44th.
With former Sunderland Harrier Patrick Martin, concentrating on a spring marathon, not defending his individual title, he won his own club’s Stockport 10-mile road race on Sunday in 50.05, it is left to his brother Jack to carry the family flag.
Jack came close to winning the title at South Shields in 2013 when finishing second to Durham City Harrier Dan Garbutt.
Stockport Harrier Jack, who left Sunderland in 2012 to move to Manchester, is in the form of his life, as last week he just missed out on European Cross Country selection after finishing a superb ninth in the trials at Liverpool.
Garbutt returns after long-term injury problems, while Morpeth’s 2014 champion Jonny Taylor and Nick Swinburn will also be gunning for the title.
In the women’s championship, Durham’s Rosie Smith goes for her fourth title in a row and she could face Olympians Laura Weightman (Morpeth) and Alyson Dixon of Sunderland Strollers.
Last year, Smith won (31.55) from Weightman who clocked 32.35.
Dixon’s battle against the elements was rewarded with third place (33.08). She said at the time: “This was the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in.”
Sunderland Harrier Jess Fox has a medal hope in the Under-20 women’s 6km.
Houghton Harriers are looking towards their youngsters for medals, Alex Brown is a contender for a place on the podium in the Under-20 junior men’s race.
The club’s Under-15 team headed by last year’s Under-13 champion Henry Johnson and Will Bellamy and Matthew Cleugh, have medal ambitions.
The Under-15 Girls’ should also be in the medal hunt, with twins Lily and Eva Hardie, plus Lydia James.
The Under-13 Girls’ are also in with a shout with Nicole Phillips, Amy Leonard and Madelaine Turner.
There is non-championship races for Under-11 Boys’ and Under-11 Girls’ which start at 10.35am and 10.40am respectively.
The championship timetable is 11.00am Under-13 boys, 11.15am Under-13 Girls, 11.30am Under-15 Boys, 11.45am Under-15 Girls, 12noon Under 17/20 Women, 12.20pm Under-20 Men, 1pm Senior Men, 1.55pm Senior Women, 2.30pm Under/17 Men.
The Aykley Heads post code is DH1 5TP.
Sunderland Strollers’ Doorstep Marathon/Half Marathon/10km, had nearly 120 runners raising money for charity over the various distances on Sunday.
Over £2,500 was raised for the designated charities: The Phoenix Cancer Unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital and the Marfan Trust.