Full report: Berkhamsted SC youngsters perform well at Watford county qualifier

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With the competitive season now in full flow for Berkhamsted Swimming Club, the Watford County Qualifier meet at the weekend was always a key target.

This year was no exception and saw a hatfull of super swims from the club’s youngsters.

Pride of place has to go to Alex Kalverboer who set personal bests (PB) in every one of his swims. He began the first session in a County Consideration Time (CCT) in the 400m freestyle with an even-paced 5:15.38 to take fifth overall and lower his best by over 14 seconds.

He followed it up with the club’s first County Qualifying Time (CQT) of the meet in the 100m breaststroke. Finishing fifth in his heat against older swimmers, he claimed a bronze medal in his age catergory, dropping a second-and-a-half to post 1:28.92.

Abbie Briers also swam the 400m freestyle, dropping nine seconds as she disputed the lead in her heat for all 16 lengths before recording 5:20.04 (CCT).

Alex Farnham is an infrequent competitor in Open meets but showed her ability in the 100m indivisual medley (IM) when she improved by a massive eight seconds to clock 1:24.25 and finish second in her heat, closing on the winner with every stroke in the last few metres.

In the boys’ 100m IM, Tom Holmes-Higgin showed a welcome return to form after a difficult year when he swam what would have been a first CCT had he not completed an illegal turn at the halfway point, but he now knows he was swimming quickly.

Kalverboer improved one place on his breaststroke position to claim a silver in the 100m IM. His 1:18.86 improved another second-and-a-half to hit 1:18.46 for his and the club’s second CQT of the day.

The 16-year-old Harrison Bullock plucked out his first PB in the same medley event with 1:14.19, pipped by just a second by his twin Callum (1:13.13) swimming in the same heat.

The second session began with 10-year-old Eva Lawson lowering yet another club record in the 200m backstroke, taking it down to 2:49.99 for a CQT and a gold medal by over seven seconds from the rest of the field.

Holmes-Higgin took confidence from his IM speed into the boys’ 200m backstroke and he finished eighth overall, lopping six seconds from his best and his first CCT of the year in 2:47.14.

The 100m freestyle saw Lawson rip up the pool again, winning another gold by more than seven seconds, dropping both her PB and the club record (1:10.86) with a gun-to-pad victory.

New club captain Vicky Ayles also improved her 100m freestyle time as she starts to build her confidence, clocking 1:09.60 with a smooth swim.

Ellen Northwood is swimming faster than for many months and touched home in 1:05.03, her best 100m freestyle time since January 2016.

In the boys’ 100m freestyle, Holmes-Higgin improved again (1:11.14) and Cam MacDonald closed even more on the 60-second barrier, blasting out a first 50m in 29.32 and coming home to win his heat easily in 1:01.18.

Chrissie Soulsby was third in her 200m IM heat, improving by 12 seconds (3:08.53) with four good-looking strokes, while Ayles was marginally off her 200m IM best (2:56.07) but collected the reward of a bronze medal.

Holmes-Higgin again improved his 200m IM time, going inside three minutes for the first time (2:54.54).

Harrison and Callum Bullock were again in the same heat, with Harrison coming out on top in the last few strokes, this time in a PB of 2:40.21 against Callum’s 2:41.77.

The 50m butterfly brought another gold for Lawson in 38.24. Alex Farnham was in the same heat and made the event look like simplicity itself, improving a second on her PB for her first-ever CCT as a perfectly-spotted finish also won her the heat she was in 36.30.

Northwood then swam her own CQT in 31.49 for the bronze medal.

The boys followed on with Holmes-Higgin taking the win in his heat with another PB and CCT of 34.84, Macdonald was second in his heat with a PB of 31.56, while Callum Bullock went inside 30 seconds for the first time as he also won his heat in 29.56 to end the first day on a high for the club.

Day two began with a clean sweep of six PBs from six swims for the boys in the 100m backstroke. Holmes-Higgin’s resurgence continued with a second place in his heat and another CCT in 1:18.60.

Kalverboer continued his 100 per cent hit rate of PBs at the meet with a silver medal and a CQT in 1:14.83.

For the senior boys, George Thorne dropped his time to 1:08.66, winning his heat, while Callum Bullock went quicker than his best in 1:09.57. Owen Strakosch was marginally quicker than Bullock with 1:09.17 (PB) and MacDonald won the intra-club battle, clocking 1:08.68 for a CCT.

Lydia Wisely was spot on her PB with her first swim of the meet in the 100m backstroke (1:23.22), Lawson improved again to 1:19.13, dropping her own club-best further and Izzy Sansom finished fourth in the Open category.

Kalverboer was the sole representative in the boys’ 200m breaststroke and flew the flag well with a bronze medal in 3:07.75. The time guaranteed him a place in the event at January’s County Champs and he followed it up with a fifth-placed finish and a PB in the 100m fly as he won his heat in 1:24.11. He completed his meet with a 100 per cent conversion rate on PBs in the 50m breaststroke, clocking 41.61 for fifth.

Callum Bullock also improved to 38.23 and both Thorne brothers, George and Harry, set PBs in 36.75 and 34.81 respectively at the sprint breaststroke, with Harry clocking a CCT.

Lawson’s heavy programme produced a silver in her 50m breaststroke with a third-place finish in her heat (silver overall) from the slowest-seeded lane eight.

Onto the 200m freestyle and Holmes-Higgin produced a swim seven seconds faster than before (2:35.27).

Adi Cooper began his meet belatedly in 2:29.10 for second in his heat, taking seven seconds from his best and Owen Strakosch shaved more than four seconds from his PB, starting quickly with 1:03.70 - nearly three seconds better than in his previous PB swim - and finishing in 2:11.09 for his second CCT of the season. His fourth-place finish in the heat from the unseeded lane eight was evidence of how much he has improved.

Lawson then destroyed her own best for the 200m freestyle in 2:34.02, taking her heat again from lane eight as she carved another five seconds from her best and improving her CQT for yet another gold medal and club record.

She was followed by Briers returning to the fray with a six-second improvement (2:27.77) to win her heat and being four seconds ahead of her best at halfway, showing how much more confident she has become in attacking the swims, just 0.5 seconds away from a CQT and hugely improving her CCT to pocket a silver medal.

Holmes-Higgin’s good run went even further with a heat win and a two-second PB in the 50m backstroke (36.46), in another CCT.

As the meet reached its end, Adi Cooper hit a PB in 36.71, Owen Strakosch posted his own best (33.05) and George Thorne picked up another CCT in 31.99, slipping inside 32 seconds for the first time.

Anna Cooper, swimming her first Open meet, clocked a four-second improvement in the 50m backstroke (48.64).

Wisely swam spot on her PB in 37.48 and Emma Hockney dipped under 40 seconds with a PB of 39.78.

Abi Hewson’s first swim of the day collected a bronze medal in a new PB and Regional Qualifying Time (RQT) for May 2019 in 32.28. This also broke the final club record of the day and just left the 50m freestyle splash-and-dash races to end the competition.

First up were the boys with Holmes-Higgin completing a massive meet with another PB of 31.14, threatening the sub-30 barrier for the first time.

Owen Strakosch showed just how it could be done, smashing out a PB that did not bother with a 29-second effort, dropping straight to 28.20.

Harrison Bullock dropped his best to 29.12 and George Thorne managed his as well, down to 27.43.

Both Adi Cooper and Callum Bullock were just off their bests at the end of a full weekend and then it was the girls’ turn.

Lydia Wisely continued the PB-setting with 32.24, before Abbie Briers moved down to the 31-second bracket (31.95), which brought in a bronze medal, improving her CCT.

Hewson finished the meet by going sub-30 in an individual event for the first time, her 29.20 being a CQT and earning another bronze medal.

The club’s head coach Geoff Wood said: “It was excellent weekend for the young athletes, who now look forward to the final round of the National League in December with the County Champs in January.”