With the new year less than a week old, it was straight into the annual Herts Major League season for Berkhamsted Swimming Club and a tough fight in the first round.
Having been relegated to the second tier in 2018, the club however found themselves back at the top-table following the withdrawal of a few teams, but they always knew it would be a tough season – and so it proved.
A final placing of sixth hid the effort levels and sense of satisfaction the squad had at the end.
The club’s sole victor of the meet was James Chennells in the men’s Open 100m freestyle. Following a fast start, he controlled the race and managed to hold on to take the win in 53.51, a personal best (PB) by 2/10ths of a second and a time which broke the oldest standing record on the club’s books, set at the Herts County Championships in 2013.
There was also a new club record set by Eva Lawson in the 10/11 years 50m fly. Her 34.69 chopped 2.19 seconds from her PB which was also the previous club best as she duelled it out with a Watford swimmer, eventually finishing second on the touch. It will give her great confidence going into the County Champs in a week’s time.
New club captain Vicky Ayles returned to something near her best with 1:10.29 in the ladies’ Open free.
Issy Whitaker has come on in huge leaps recently and further reduced her month-old PB in the 50m backstroke, clocking 39.02 for third place.
Issy MacDonald was surprised to be swimming the 100m fly but sliced nearly five-and-a-half seconds from her best, including a 50m PB (37.92).
Tamsin Moren posted her fastest 100m breaststroke time since a knee operation, challenging for the lead before touching for third (1:23.54) in the 12/13 age group. In the same event for the boys, Alex Kalverboer improved by just under half a second (1:27.06) for fourth. His attacking swim also saw him shave his 50m PB to 39.72, his first time under 40 seconds.
Lara Connell’s fourth place in the 9/11 50m breaststroke was a PB (47.51) and Joe Harrison was also fourth in the boys’ race.
In the girls’ 14/15 100m free, Daisy Laing took off more than six seconds from her PB (1:13.30), before Dan Chennells in the boys’ race managed a 50m PB (26.74). His fast start caught up with him in the final metres as he tired (57.84) for third, just outstretched at the finish.
Ruby Liddle set a new 50m freestyle PB (35.64) when leading off the girls’ 9/11 freestyle relay, handing over to Emily Jones, Connell and Lawson for fourth spot.
The best placing of the first set of relays came from the 12/13 girls’ team of Moren, Lydia Wisely, Lara Coster and Abbie Briers. The quartet finished in second place in a close finish, when they just ran out of room to catch the winner despite closing throughout.
The second set of individual races produced a second place for Lawson in the fly followed by a PB for Briers in her 100m freestyle, lowering her best to 1:08.71 as she closes in on the top times in the county, picking up third place. Immediately after, Eze Svichla-Fekete, in his first-ever 100m race, clocked 1:26.79 as an inaugural PB.
Liddle then lowered her 50m freestyle PB by another half-a-second as she finished third place in the 9/11 years’ group.
Lara Coster reduced her 100m backstroke time to 1:22.64, a drop of 1.13 seconds, and Kalverboer then claimed another third-place finish in the final individual race, the boys’ 12/13 100m backstroke in 1:16.15.
Evie Watson, in the 14/15 years’ 100m breaststroke swam faster than ever before, touching the boards in 1:25.31.
The second set of relays produced two third-place finishes for the Open boys’ 200m freestyle relay (Ish Rahim, Owen Strakosch, Harry Thorne and James Chennells) as well as the 9/11 years girls’ squad of Whitaker, Connell, Lawson and Jones.
The relays also saw a lead-off 50m freestyle leg PB from Issy Soulsby, who dropped inside 30 seconds from a standing start for the first time (29.72) and another for MacDonald who led off the 14/15 girls’ freestyle relay team of MacDonald, Millie Harrison, Laing and Evie Watson with 33.83.
The most exciting event of the galas is always the final 8 x 50m freestyle squadron relay and this was led off by Eva Lawson (31.70), passing to Lawson Gray (37.52), Abbie Briers (31.29), Tom Holmes-Higgin (32.39), Evie Watson (31.53), Dan Chennells (26.35), Issy Soulsby (29.24) and James Chennells (24.78) for a total time of 4:04.80.
The rest of the squad comprised Eric Batt, George Thorne, Izzy Sansom, Molly Baker, Zac Patel, William Barnes, Riley Milne, David Graham, Sam Baker, Tom Holmes-Higgin, George Gray and Joe Harrison.
Three weeks of County Champs will now follow at the end of January and beginning of February, so the next round of the league will be on Saturday, February 23.