Two Sunderland Harriers make North Eastern Counties debut in Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships

Sunderland Harrier Alice Smith
Sunderland Harrier Alice Smith

Two Sunderland Harriers will make their North Eastern Counties debut in the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships at Loughborough on Saturday.

Kevin Jeffress and Alice Smith have received a late call-up for the nine-strong teams to compete at Prestwold Hall.

Seaham athlete Jeffress won his fourth North East Masters’ Cross Country title in a row at Darlington last month and now, at the age of 38, he is earning a last-minute county selection.

His previous representative honour was twice being selected to compete for England in the British Masters’ Cross Country Championships.

Smith finished eighth in the North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships at Redcar to catch the selectors’ eye before going on to make her winning debut as a 35-year-old veteran in the masters’ championships at Darlington.

At this late stage in their athletics career this is a fitting accolade to both athletes after years of endeavour.

A team scoring position will be their goal on the testing course, which could be a mud bath after the melting snow on the undulating parkland of the Prestwold Hall estate.

The senior men’s team has been decimated by a number of withdrawals and it is particularly galling for team manager Stewy Bell, who is bidding to beat Lancashire’s seven team wins in a row record.

The Blackhill Bounder will now be up against it, but he still has four of the six-man winning team from last year competing on Saturday in Northern champion Carl Avery (Morpeth), Phil Wylie (Cheltenham), Greg Jayasuriya (Middlesbrough and Cleveland) and Andy Burn (Jarrow and Hebburn).

The athlete remaining from the initial selection is Chris Smith (Morpeth).

The late replacements, as well as Jeffress, are Adrian Bailes (Birtley), Conrad Franks (Gateshead) and Tom Charlton (Tyne Bridge).

Last year, they packed their six men inside the first 49 to beat Surrey by 17 points.

The counting six were Jonathon Taylor in ninth, Carl Avery 10th, Nick Swinburn 22nd, Phil Wylie 23rd, Greg Jayasuriya 47th, and Andy Burn 49th.

The fast-finishing Avery, Swinburn and Burn ensured the team victory by helping to overtake the Surrey points score in the closing stages.

But the awards did not stop there, as they also won the nine-to-score team race, with Dean Newton in 51st, Robert Balmbra 75th and Dan Jenkin 113th also playing their part.

The women’s team with Houghton Harrier Lynn Copper as the team manager is: Emma Holt (Morpeth), Jane Hodgson (Morpeth), Dannielle Hodgkinson (Birchfield/Army), Chloe Price (Birtley), Georgia Campbell (Jarrow and Hebburn), Steph Pattinson (Jarrow and Hebburn), Jo Gascoigne-Owens (Alnwick), Sharon Bulman (New Marske) and Alice Smith (Sunderland Harriers).

Last year, the North East’s senior women’s team just missed out on medals after one of their leading runners, Emma Holt, pulled up injured just before the start.

They finished fourth, with Ashley Gibson the first counter in 18th. Then came Rosie Smith in 20th, Helen Warburton 47th, Georgia Campbell 72nd, Rachel Lundgren 70th and Jane Hodgson 80th.

Houghton Harriers have a number of their young athletes selected for the younger age group events at Loughborough.

In the Under-15 girls event, they have three athletes in the eight-strong team in Lydia James, Amy Leonard and Anna Pigford.

Henry Johnson and Will Bellamy are down for the Under-15 boys’ team, while Tom Whelan has had a late call for the Under-20 men’s team.

Sunderland Harriers have Sarah Knight in the Under-17 women’s team and Sean Mackie is selected for the Under-20 men’s team.

Last Saturday’s North Eastern Harrier League at Alnwick was one of many events up and down the country postponed because of the weather.

The date of March 17 has been suggested for the rearranged fixture, but this will not be confirmed until later today.

One Sunderland Harrier who has had no problems with snow and ice was Paul Collins, who was in Spain for the Benidorm Half Marathon. The 55-year-old finished an impressive 25th (1.22.20) in a field of 1,100.