Berkhamsted Swimming Club hosted the second round of the National Arena League at Herts Sports Village in Hatfield on Saturday -- which ended in dramatic fashion.
A host of excellent Berkhamsted SC races ensure they claimed a valiant third place finish on the night after a 50-race duel with fourth-placed Hertford, which was only decided in the final few relays.
The whole gala was swum in an atmosphere of frenzied excitement, although eventual winners Putteridge were away and gone from an early point on the evening.
Berkhamsted’s swimmers of the night were difficult to decide upon, given how many superb swims were on display.
But, eventually, the hats went off to first-timer Issy Whitaker, who smashed out a five-second improvement in her 10-11 years’ 50m backstroke, coming home off the turn to overhaul the early leader with a time of 39.16 – her first-ever County Consideration Time (CCT).
Other plaudits went to the Berkhamsted duo of Daniel Chennells and Ellen Northwood, as they anchored home the boys’ 14-15 years’ 4 x 50m freestyle relay and Open girls’ 4 x 50m medley relays respectively.
Chennells posted his first sub-25s swim with a mark of 24.96 after George Thorne (27.01), Yazeed Swarray-Deen (32.87) and Omar Swarray-Deen (30.09) had all swum faster than before to smash their combined personal bests (PB) by nearly four seconds in 1:54.88.
Northwood’s time of 29.61 saw her hit a sub-30s result for the first time in two years to bring home Molly Baker, Maddie Kiernan and Tracy Van DeVenter, whose 50m fly leg was her first time under 35 seconds (34.95) since her return to the pool.
The night had begun with Northwood swimming three seconds faster than the last round in her 200m individual medley (IM) in 2:40.87, an improved CCT, and James Chennells collecting the first win of the night in the boys’ 200m IM, showing few effects from a two-month absence due to illness.
Showing good race craft, he kept enough in reserve to hold-off strong challenges outside him in the last 25 metres with a super final length to show his class.
The girls’ 9-11 years’ 200m freestyle relay squad of Lara Connell, Saff Harding and Ruby Liddle (both Arena league first-timers) handed over to Eva Lawson (30.48) to post 2:28.50, followed by the boys with Cole Moore swimming his fastest ever 50m freestyle (35.52), taking over from Lawson Gray before handing the baton to William Barnes and Eric Batt.
There were more best swims from the 12-13 girls’ medley squad with Daisy Laing hitting 41.58 for her backstroke, Alex Farnham in 35.59 in the fly and Abbie Briers in 31.11 for the free, teaming up with Lydia Wisely on an unfamiliar breaststroke leg for fourth place in 2:35.11.
Then Alex Kalverboer (35.73, backstroke), Tom Holmes Higgin (35.32, fly) and yet another first-time Arena swimmer Eze Svichla-Fekete (37.50, free) all swam faster than before when teaming with George Gray (breaststroke) to record 2:32.96.
Abi Hewson’s sub-30s again, in a lead-off freestyle leg, handed over to Vicky Ayles (32.11), Evie Watson (32.06) and Issy Soulsby (29.39) for fourth place in the 14-15 years’ freestyle relay as, once again, the final three girls were all faster than ever before, with Soulsby claiming an extra place in the last five metres with a super finish.
The boys’ Open medley saw all four boys go faster than ever and lop two seconds from their combined PBs for third place in 2:00.55. Cam MacDonald posted 31.57 for the backstroke, Harry Thorne, on breaststroke, hit 34.26, Ish Rahim on the fly clocked 26.90 and Callum Bullock hit the 27.82 mark on the freestyle leg.
After Whitaker put in a stunning 50m backstroke and Alex Farnham improved her 100m breaststroke by over 2.5 seconds for fifth place in the 12-13 years’ girls in 1:35.52. George Gray set an inaugural PB for his 100m breaststroke in 1:39.53.
The 14-15 years’ freestyle races saw a brace of second-place finishes with Hewson and Dan Chennells both leading early with good turnover and Chennells setting a new PB and an improved CCT in 1:07.19.
Northwood lowered her 100m fly CCT to 1:12.87 on a busy night for her, while Rahim also improved his County Qualification Time (CQT) for third spot in the boys’ version, posting 1:01.03.
The good fly performances continued with Lawson improving her PB and CQT down to 37.51. She was a clear winner of the 10-11 years’ 50m fly and Lawson Gray claimed second for the boys.
Emma Hockney sliced a mammoth nine seconds from her 100m backstroke best (1:28.72), while Kalverboer placed fourth for the boys.
Back to the fly, Soulsby pocketed third in a CCT of 1:15.31, while George Thorne showed renewed confidence and superb underwater skills to lower his best to 1:09.41 and another third-place finish.
Cam MacDonald’s improvements continue apace and after a more conservative start, he dropped his 100m backstroke PB to 1:08.75, an improvement by over 1.5 seconds to claim his first CCT of the year.
Moore set a PB in the 50m breaststroke of 51.40, Wisely looked smoother than for a while in her 100m fly for another third place and Holmes-Higgin hit a PB in his fly with a small improvement to 1:26.51.
Soulsby picked up second in the 100m freestyle and then Dan Chennells romped home to win the 14-15 years’ 100m freestyle for boys, leading all the way and extending his advantage off every turn to win by almost a second-and-a-half.
Kiernan set a PB of 39.56 at half-way in her 100m breaststroke on her way to her first CCt of the year in 1:26.21 and Harry Thorne replicated the feat for the boys, coming home fourth in 1:15.04 to improve his own CCT.
The final first-time swimmer in an individual event was Joe Harrison, who had to wait a while but made it worthwhile as he smashed four seconds from his best with a strong second-half performance to climb up to third place and his first CCT (36.51).
Briers then pinched second place in her 100m freestyle, dropping 0.07 seconds and improving her chances of getting into the county 100m freestyle event.
George Thorne was on fire again in the 100m breaststroke as he improved more than three seconds for another third-place finish in 1:20.19.
Then it was the final individual races, the Open 100m freestyle events.
Northwood finished her three-race meet with a fighting 1:06.02 for yet another CCT and Rahim clocked 56.32 in a tightly-contested race for third place again.
The final round of relays saw Harding and Lawson swim their best 50m times for the breaststroke and freestyle, respectively, as part of the Liddle-Harding Whitaker-Lawson team for the 9-11 years’ girls’ medley as they came home in second spot in 2:48.87.
Batt, Barnes, Lawson Gray and Harrison claimed fourth in their medley and then Farnham, Laing, Hockney and Briers teamed up for yet another third-place finish in their freestyle squad race.
Hewson, Watson, Soulsby and Ayles were fourth in their medley with a best time on the freestyle leg from Ayles (32.16).
Dan Chennells then joined Omar, Yazeed and George Thorne for third in their medley relay.
The last two races of the night are always the 6 x 50m free Open relays and the already loud support was ratcheted up even more. After Northwood’s lead-off leg, Van Deventer, Ayles, Kiernan and Soulsby all set their fastest relay legs (32.05; 32.13; 31.09 and 29.70), before it was down to the boys to round off the meet.
Rahim posted 26.22 off the blocks to come home third after the first leg. Dan Chennells hammered round in 25.66 to move the squad to pole position. Callum Bullock (28.15) just about held that place, followed by Cam MacDonald (27.87) and Harry Thorne (26.55) as the squad battled to hold-off a fighting Watford team.
But they gave James Chennells a slight advantage into the anchor leg – and he did not disappoint. Showing all his class, James powered away with a 24.21 leg to come home nearly three seconds clear in the final analysis to complete a fantastic night of entertainment for Berkhamsted.