The final few weeks of the calendar are always frantic for the swimming programme as athletes look for elusive qualifying times for the County Championship in the New Year and the national League campaign reaches its end.
Berkhamsted Swimming Club had an exceptional night’s swimming at The Venue in Borehamwood at the weekend for the 8th-14th place gala in their division of the London league of the National Arena Competition.
In a wildly fluctuating night, the club’s overall win was in doubt right until the final race, the always noisy men’s Open 6x50m freestyle, which saw the big guys smashing out two frenetic lengths of frontcrawl amid a hubbub of noise.
The event began with the squad’s two senior swimmers, Ellen Northwood and James Chennells, in the 200m Individual Medley (IM).
Northwood rose to the occasion with her fastest swim of the year, improving her chance to swim at Counties (2:39.73), before and Chennells, returning to his best after a nine-week absence due to illness, dominated his race, setting a new club 17-year-old record and personal best (PB) for the first 50m of the butterfly. He was always in control and came home six seconds clear in a club-best (Open and 17-years) PB of 2:13.45.
In the first set of relays, Issy Whitaker led off the 9-11 girls’ free relay with a PB (36.98), followed by first-timer Seren Diehl, Saff Harding and stalwart Eva Lawson to third place in 2:25.66.
Eric Batt, William Barnes, Ronan Philbin and Cole Moore repeated the third-place finish in their version as well.
In the 12-13 years girls’ freestyle relay it was Tamsin Moren, with great underwater skills on an unfamiliar backstroke leg, who was third at the first take-over, Emma Hockney, Alex Farnham and Abbie Briers, with a first 30 point 50 free leg who also came in third at the touch.
Following a late withdrawal, the 12-13 boys’ squad was down to just four swimmers and Pierce Philbin, Alex Kalverboer, Tom Holmes-Higgin and Ezi Svichla-Fekete recorded a time six seconds faster than their combined PBs in 2:36.45.
Evie Watson led off the 14-15 girls’ freestyle relay three seconds quicker than she has ever swum before (31.81) followed by late call-up Elliss MacNab, club captain Vicky Ayles and Abi Hewson in 2:10.71. They were followed by the first relay win of the night from the boys’ 14-15 freestyle relay team of George Thorne, another late call-up in Tom Stoker, Euan Donald, who was another returning from a long-term illness, and anchored home by Dan Chennells to win in 1:52.46. The Open girls’ medley relay teamof Izzy Sansom, Caitlin Kelley, Northwood and Charlotte Watson was followed by another win for the boys as Owen Strakosch, Harry Thorne and Ish Rahim ,all swimming to their best, put Chennells in on the final leg in fourth place. A storming second 25m saw him transform that into victory by just over half a second in 1:59.78.
Whitaker and Batt gained further third-place finishes in their 10-11 50m backstroke and Kalverboer improved his PB and County Qualification Time (CQT) with yet another third-place finish in 1:27.46.
Hewson, despite suffering with an infection, then led from the off to take the 14-15 girls’ backstroke in 1:11.09, before Northwood made it a brace of third-place results with her fastest 100m butterfly time of the year (1:12.85) and improving her own County Consideration Time (CCT).
The club’s pre-eminence in the fly races continued when Rahim won the Open 100m fly, pacing the race well and winning off the final wall where he took some three metres out of his nearest rival.
Lawson had far too much for the rest of the opposition when winning the 10-11 50m fly in a PB and improved CQT of 36.87. Ronan Philbin also picked up a third-place finish in his fly with a PB 43.26.
Euan Donald’s third spot in the 14-15 boys’ 100m fly was a triumph for his determination as he returns to fitness and Saff Harding then collected her first-ever CCT in the 10-11 50m breaststroke with a PB (51.13) by 1.5 seconds.
Abbie Briers is on a mission this season and lowered her PB and CCT in the 100m fly, finished second in 1:22.88 as she becomes an all-round swimmer. She was followed by a reinvigorated Holmes-Higgin slicing more than four seconds from his 100m fly best in 1:22.04, also stopping the clock in second place.
Hewson was right on her PB in claiming a CCT in the 100m freestyle with a gutsy third-place result and George Thorne closed remorselessly on a sub-60 for his freestyle, improving for the second successive week to a tantalisingly close time of 1:00.48 for second place.
Kelley was disappointed with her swim in the Open breaststroke but had no need to be as she sliced her best down by more than six seconds.
Lawson’s run of PBs continued in the 50m freestyle where, although just touched into second place, her 32.11 further improved her CQT and place in the 10 years’ 50m freestyle ranking list.
Joe Harrison had a long wait for his first swim but did not disappoint, lowering his month-old best in the 50m freestyle again for third in 35.80 as he learns about race skills.
Then it was down to Briers and Kalverboer in the 12-13 years’ 100m freestyle. Both had recent PBs in the event and set about their races with vigour. Both came home in second with Briers lowering her CCT to 1:08.88 and Kalverboer dropping his time to a CQT of 1:07.02 as they showed increasing belief in their ability.
Watson surprised herself by finishing third in the 14-15 years’ 100m breaststroke and Dan Chennells picked up a second-place finish for the boys.
Ayles picked up a place with her final five-metre finish in the Open freestyle before James Chennells ended the individual races with a clinical victory in the boys’ Open freestyle. His conservative first 75m saw him apparently under pressure at the last turn but his racing brain had enough in reserve to power off the last wall and come home well over two seconds ahead of the field.
Into the relays and, having led the gala at two separate points in a duel with Stevenage, the Berkhamsted team were 11 points to the good.
Despite some super swims in the first few relays with Whitaker, Harding, Lawson and Diehl finishing second in their medley and Harrison setting a 50m backstroke PB of 46.00 leading off Barnes, Ronan Philbin and Batt to fourth in theirs, Stevenage started to gain the upper hand.
Moren then hit a PB (31.07), leading off Wisely, Hockney and Briers to finish second in their freestyle relay and Dan Chennells, George Thorne, Donald and Stoker also finished a solid second throughout their medley relay.
But after the girls’ Open 6x50m freestyle, Stevenage held the upper hand by just one point as it went down to the final race.
Solid swims from Rahim (26.40), Cam MacDonald (28.06), Dan Chennells (27.39), Strakosch (27.42) and Harry Thorne (26.84) put James Chennells in on the anchor leg in third place but with work to do. He roared down the pool, closing the metres with every stroke but still seemed to have too much to do until the last five metres. His finishing effort looked, to everybody at poolside, to have stolen the win. With the electronic timing failing for the only time on the night, the watches showed differently with the win being given to Hertford by just 2/100ths of a second after a thrilling race run-off in a cacophony of sound.
After a long wait for the final results to be announced, a flawless night of no disqualifications, allied to some superb swimming saw Berkhamsted victors by just four points to cap a wonderful league campaign.
Meanwhile, at the same venue, the Potters Bar Last Chance qualifying meet was attended by 15 Berkhamsted swimmers.
Issy Whitaker began the meet with a bronze in her first 200m IM (3:21.28), Abbie Briers dropped almost eight seconds in her bid to swim the event at Counties (2:52.60), a sub-three-minute time for the first time.
Vicky Ayles gained a fifth-place finish and then, for the boys, Lawson and George Gray both pocketed gold in 3:44.54 and 3:23.80 respectively.
Alex Kalverboer collected a gold in his 100m fly as did George Thorne, while brother Harry gained a bronze.
Chrissie Soulsby won a silver in her 50m backstroke (40.12), Ayles improved her best to 38.69 for fourth and George Thorne won silver in 32.18.
In the 200m freestyle events, Briers and Lawson Gray (3:15.51, PB) took gold and Ayles a bronze, with George Gray fitting a PB (3:03.64) for fourth.
In the 50m fly, Lawson Gray, George Thorne and Harry Thorne all claimed silver medals, before Lawson stepped up again to take another silver in the 200m breaststroke (4:10.26, PB).
Alex Kalverboer reduced his best by more than four seconds to come away with gold in 3:03.58 for his first Regional Qualifying Time (RQT) for 2019.
In the 100m breaststroke it was bronze for Harry Thorne and then Kalverboer improved his 50m freestyle time for a silver medal in 31.47, alongside Pierce Philbin’s PB of 37.73.
George Thorne’s medal collection grew with victory in the 50m freestyle and Ronan Philbin dropped his 100m freestyle PB by another seven seconds for his first-ever CCT in 1:18.90.
George Thorne’s 1:00.51 was good enough for gold again in the 100m freestyle and Ronan Philbin took bronze in the 50m breaststroke.
There was also a silver medal and a PB for Harry Thorne in the 50m breaststroke in 34.56.
In the final event, Kalverboer lowered his 100m IM time to 1:18.04 for a silver medal and George Thorne completed a great meet with another gold in his 100m IM in 1:11.59.
The club’s head coach Geoff Wood said: “At this manic time of the season, it was great to see the swimmers having fun, swimming fast and setting themselves up with a great group of friends from other clubs as well.”
There are now just two meets left for 2018, the Harpenden Last Chance and the Hemel Hempstead Swimming Club-run Alan Doyle Memorial Sprint.