Berkhamsted Swimming Club opened their National Arena League campaign at Enfield last weekend.
The Arena League is the top team competition for clubs in the UK and always brings excitement. Berkhamsted find themselves in the third tier of the London League this season, with the first round taking the squad to Southbury Road, Enfield, against five other teams from Hertfordshire.
The meet could not have started better with Issy Soulsby’s returning confidence seeing her attack the 200m (individual medley) IM and bring home victory by just half-a-second in 2:37.62.
This was followed by a fourth-placed finish for Chris Hughes in his first IM for the club and a new personal best (PB) time of 2:31.45.
The format then switched to a first set of eight relays and the 9-11 age-group girls’ squad of Jess Cutler, Seren Majed, Nell Coster and Seren Diehl, who are all new to this level, showed no nerves with a splendid a second-place finish in their 4x50 freestyle team race, some five seconds ahead of the team in third.
The boys’ team of Lawson Gray, Austin Clements, Riley Milne and Joe Harrison replicated the second-place feat in a tightly-fought contest.
After a brace of sixth-placed outcomes for the 12-13 age-group medley squads, the 14-15 age-group girls showed real fight to win their freestyle relay with Abi Hewson anchoring home Tamsin Moren, Alex Farnham and Lydia Wisely.
The final medley relay saw the Open boys’ quartet of George Thorne, Dan Chennells, Chris Hughes and Owen Strakosch pick up third with just three seconds covering the first four teams after a fluctuating race.
Diehl pocketed second in a PB 40.56 in the under-12s 50m backstroke and Joe Harrison was spot on his best for the boys.
Mia Maslen-Wollington claimed a County Consideration Time (CCT) in 1:37.60 for the under-14s 100m breaststroke, before Tracy Van Deventer showed all the determination expected from her with a fighting last 25 metres to claim back a position in the Open 100m fly in 1:19.51.
For the boys, Ish Rahim stormed to victory in the Open 100m fly when his skills around the walls destroyed the rest of the field to provide an eight-second winning margin in 1:02.24.
Diehl took her second second-place finish in just 10 minutes with another PB, ducking inside 40 seconds for the first time in the 50m fly in another tight finish where just three-quarters-of-a-second separated the top three, picking up second place with a head-down, perfectly-spotted last five metres into the finish.
Lawson Gray set his own PB in the boys’ race in 40.78 for fourth.
Ronan Philbin set a new best in the 100m backstroke in 1:24.99 as he develops four good strokes and then another first-time Arena competitor Izzy MacDonald smashed out 1:22.50 for the 14/15 girls’ 100m fly, lowering her best to 1:22.50, including a PB for 50m at the halfway point.
Alex Kalverboer, swimming up an age group, was far from overwhelmed and the 13-year-old set his own best time of 1:23.35.
Soulsby narrowly missed making it two individual wins, being out-kicked in the last few metres, but still managing 1:10.73 for second in the Open 100m backstroke.
Strakosch made it two from two for the Open backstrokers with his own second-place finish, showing better skills underwater off every turn to stay in contention.
In the 9-11 50m breaststroke both Saff Harding and Austin Clements chopped a massive amount from their PB times - four seconds - with Harding coming home in third.
Caitie Walters followed this with her own third-place finish in the 12-13 years’ 100m fly with a well-paced CCT of 1:26.53, digging deep to hold off a Potters Bar swimmer in the last 25 metres.
Going into the final quarter of the gala, Berkhamsted had climbed to fourth after a see-saw battle with four teams from second to fifth in a close battle.
Ronan Philbin gave further evidence of his improvement when lowering his 100m fly time to 1:26.90 for fourth and Yazeed Swarray-Deen improved his 100m freestyle time to 1:13.95 for the boys.
Tamsin Moren stepped up to the Open 100m breaststroke event and the 14-year-old provided a controlled masterclass in how to dominate a race, forcing the others to chase her from half-way to come home in 1:22.67.
Dan Chennells, in an unaccustomed event for him, attacked his own breaststroke for the Open men, hanging on to improve by more than a second to 1:18.71.
Majed pulled off a super half-way turn in the 10-11 years’ 50m freestyle when picking up third in a new four-second PB of 35.45.
Milne dropped his PB in the boys’ race to 38.09 and Briers lowered her 100m freestyle time in a gutsy swim to 1:08.05, with another great final turn.
For the boys, Kalverboer, now in his own age group, just missed a win with a time of 1:06.54 for the 100m freestyle, just being touched-out in the final stroke.
Moren showed her endurance by wiping the floor with the opposition to clock a time fewer than 0.75 seconds slower than her Open victory. These performances won her one of two female swimmers of the night awards.
Lorenzo Evans, another first-time Arena swimmer, swam faster than before in the 100m breaststroke, before Ish Rahim doubled his individual tally, being the only swimmer inside the 60-second barrier.
The final relays arrived with the Berkhamsted team having slipped to fifth.
The 9-11 years’ girls’ medley team saw Harding on the breaststroke leg replacing Majed from the freestyle squad and they claimed another second-place finish. They could be a force to be reckoned with over the rest of the league rounds.
The boys were unable to repeat their second-place finish from the freestyle race, picking up fifth in their Medley event.
Emma Hockney led off the girls’ 12-13 years’ freestyle team with Walters coming in for Maslen-Wollington from the medley squad, anchored home by Briers again for second in 2:11.76.
The under-16s girls made it a double win in their Medley when a storming fly leg from Farnham left Wisely with the job of bringing the team home after being set-up by Abi Hewson (backstroke) and Moren (breaststroke).
In the final two races, the Open 6x50m freestyle relays, Soulsby led off the girls with a sub-30 second leg, followed by club captain Vicky Ayles, Izzy Sansom, Hewson, MacDonald and Van Deventer.
With final team positions still in the balance, the Open men’s relay team knew they had to perform. Chennells posted 26.69 for the lead-off, Thorne followed with 27.17, Kalverboer hit 30.09, Hughes 28.02, Strakosch 28.03 and Rahim rounded off a rousing victory in 25.67 to take the victory and confirm fourth place on the night for the team.
Other members of the squad included Eric Batt, whose lead-off backstroke leg for the boys’ 12-13 years’ medley relay was a PB of 37.81, George Gray, Eze Svichla-Fekete, Pierce Philbin and Lara Coster who all contributed to a great night of swimming for the club.