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BUAC Dominate at BUCS XC

February 5th 2022. A day that will go down in history. It had been a long time since BUAC had ended a BUCS XC at the top of the pile, but this year, having been robbed of the opportunity to compete in 2021, and being blessed with two bumper intakes of recruits, something felt different. There was a quiet, guarded sense of confidence in the air of the sports centre Costa, and a contagious optimism amongst newer members in the ranks unblemished by previous short-comings. The weekend started with 120 of BUACs finest piling into two coaches, down the M40, and into Heathrow’s finest Premier Inn. After an early night, it was a 9:15 departure to the course, decked out in a bright array of red, gold, and blue, with some incredible trims on offer as well. Numbers were dished out, teams declared, and the BUAC faithful were treated to lyrical performances from Lil Elsy P and MC Chazzy D to inspire the team, not that they needed it. BUAC were in town, ready to go to hell and back for each other. The buzz was real.

11:30 am, first race of the day: the women’s short course. 3 to score, with several scoring teams possible. Thirty of BUAC’s grittiest girls toed the start line in their bid to cloak Horsenden Hill in a sea of red, yellow and blue. After a painfully long 10-second countdown, the race was underway with Rosie Hamilton-James and Emily Thompson getting off to a strong start at the front of the pack. An outstanding run from top fresher Rosie led us home in a brilliant 4th place in her first BUCS championships, closely followed home by Emily in a strong 5th, setting up the stage nicely for some potential team medals. Comeback queen Kate O'Neill completed the first team of 3 BUACers, flying through the race to finish for 6th and securing us our spectacular FIRST GOLD MEDAL of the day (and the first for the last 5 years)! Then they just kept coming… and coming… and coming! Not satisfied with just the one team medal, hot on the heels of Kate was fresher Maya Todd McIntyre, making it look easy to come in for a fantastic 7th place. Packing tightly for 8th was golden oldie Kate Palfreeman-Watt, and just behind in 10th was Captain Elsa Palmer, holding on to round out our second team and add a magnificent TEAM BRONZE MEDAL to the collection! That made it 6 BUACers within the top 10 – paving the way for a day that can only be described as absolute BUAC domination. The next BUACer to cross the line in 16th was Lucy Jones (pretty good for a 40-year-old), followed by big performances from Sophie Rotheram (17th), casanova Hannah Seager (19th), Freya Bennett (24th), and track speedster Kate Willis (29th). Behind our gold and bronze team medals, our third team continued to demonstrate BUAC’s dominance, finishing in 5th place. Beanie Brown defied the doctor’s orders and finished in an impressive 32nd, although rumour has it Jack Johnson wasn’t nearly so impressed with her early departure later that evening. Georgie Campbell (34th), Ana Montgomery (36th), Abby Rex (41st), and Emily Marmion-Williams (50th) completed the top 50, with Maisy Rose and her singular spike finishing just outside in 51st. Tilly Horton crossed the line in 54th, a strong performance only let down by her commitment to St. Mary’s later that night. Lily Higgins ran well to place 58th, with fresher Katie Goodge next to finish in 69th, who celebrated a little too hard and managed to miss the 10am coach departure the next day. BUAC legend Maddie Mastro backed her up just one spot behind in 70th, followed by Laura Trask in 84th. Beth Sykes showed all that cross-training paid off as she finished in 92nd place, whilst Katie Hopkins actually managed to make the start line to finish in a solid 105th, with fresher Emily Hathaway not far behind in 108th. Fellow BUCS debutants Annie Testar (121st), Charlotte Vaughan (123rd) and Cameron-Ellie Mander (126th) packed tightly to finish within 4 seconds of each other, with Georgie Benbow also making it into the top 150 finishers. Siobhan Gregory and Caitlin O’Cononor ran well to place 155th and 157th. In an attack of the Abigails, Abbie Saker pipped Abi White as they finished in 222nd and 238th, which rounded off an incredible first race of the day. Whilst we may have just missed out on the individual medals, the sheer strength and depth of the BUAC girls racing ensured we left our mark as by far the most dominant team in the women’s B race.

In the last 3 years at BUCS, we have finished precisely 6th every year in the mens B race. At least we've been consistent. But this year we had such a depth of talent on our hands that we knew we would be able to attack the B race in a way we had never been able to dream of in recent years, and it was these brave men had the task of following on from the ladies great start in the short race. The B race is a spectacle, you take every single runner other than your 6 in the A race, over 8 kilometres with 4 to score. The added bonus is that you can have as many teams of 4 scoring as you want, and they are all eligible to medal. It was Olly Smart who set the early pace, and it was a fast one which led to the race stringing out after just one short lap, at which point a lead three had broken away. The front of the race had the look of a Metchley training session to it, with OShea, Keen and Smart ahead of Imroth and Luke Prior of St Mary’s, and Fin Proffitt and Joe Blacknell close behind this. This was the sea of red that was promised, and there Loughborough didn’t get an invite. Larry Ryan had put himself in a chasing pack of purple, blue and white, a cat among the pigeons and he was ready to stir the pot. By the beginning of the third and final lap, Ethan had built a huge lead of 20 seconds, looking effortless as he cruised across the mud. The St Mary’s athlete had joined Keen and Smart in the chase pack, with Imroth following. But there was news; the blue and white intruder was no student, he was alumni, and the clean sweep was well and truly on.

By the time they rounded the final corner, the lead of Ethan OShea that had looked insurmountable proved to be exactly that, and there was time for the Charnwood man to enjoy it with his mates as he came up the home straight. A perfect run from an unbelievable bloke who came into form just as it mattered most to take home the gold on his BUCS debut, making himself top dog. The next student across the line was Tom Keen taking silver. Some might say a muddy course like Horsenden wouldn’t suit the 1500m specialist, but they clearly didn’t tell him that, and the silver was just reward for a gutsy performance for a man who knows how to dig like few others can. Oliver Smart came in shortly afterwards to confirm the clean sweep that had looked likely for some time, a great run from someone who moulded the shape of the whole race from the get-go. A clean sweep of the podium, and incredible performance and yet we weren’t done, because just 6 seconds behind Olly came Kristian Imroth in 4th, another great run from an athlete who has pulled off eye catching results all season somehow despite injury problems, a sign of his class. And with Kris across the line, the perfect win was secured. Hole in one, 9-dart finish, one-four-seven, a 300 game, a score of 10 in BUCS cross country. These are all the same things, perfection, you literally can’t do any better, and when you see it happen you have to admire it because you don’t know when it will ever happen again.

But we were nowhere near done. Finley Proffitt was next home, a great run from the fresher placing him 6th. Larry Ryan blew away the rivals around him for a phenomenal 9th place finish. Anyone who knows Larry knows how hard he works, and for him to get that result was brilliant to see. It is worth noting that in the last 4 years we had a total of 2 top 10 finishes in the B race (Tom Dodd, 7th in 2018, Ollie Newman, 5th in 2020). Today we had 6. But the Birmingham domination didn’t stop once the 10th man crossed the line. Morgan H James followed his compatriot Larry home 5s behind in 11th, and Tyler Bilyard, just 3 weeks on from opening his indoor season with a 1:50 800m, finished 13th - range. Fin, Larry, Morgan and Tyler combined to give a score of 39 which placed them 2nd team, comfortably ahead of any other universities first team in the B race! Joe Blacknell finished in 15th just 2 seconds behind Tyler, the 3:48 man continuing his strong second half of the season. Joe Tuffin was next, his cross country resurgence continuing with 2nd in the alumni race, and 19th overall. Ben Thomas took a break from a fruitful indoor season to finish 22nd with triathlete Jack Shayler close behind in 23rd. Jordan Jones had a great run to take 28th, with Zach Bridgeland putting his camera down for long enough to finish 33rd. Harry Sinclair had a stormer in 42nd with fellow fresher Will Newcome 47th just dipping Shreyas Kanyady who came home bloody after a nasty cut. Tom Ross just missed out on the top 50 with 51st, and Matt Clutterbuck followed in 54th. Max Walk took 64th on what was his first cross race of the season, whilst Petros Kousis overcame a couple of falls to register a solid 72nd. Brychan Price-Davies cracked the top 100 in 97th, leading a swathe of BUAC with Ed Blythman, Aidan Banfield and George ‘UoB Track and Field Series’ Loxton within 20 seconds placing 100, 102, and 116 respectively. OJ took 129th and backed that up with 2 goals in a 6-0 win for Birmingham Tiki Taka Elite the next day. Ross van Heerde was 6 seconds back in 135th and Mayank Mishra in 177th got the better of Patrick Mackie in 212nd, with the latter making an appearance at the Brunel Student Union in a ‘Deano’s Dynamos’ t-shirts and a fat gold chain - legend. Ryan Teare was the 30th BUACer to cross the line, making his club debut, and finishing in 252nd, just ahead of Josh Dowling in 283rd. Dan Kimber had an unforgettable BUCS debut in 255th before Burnley’s finest Michael Stevens finished 305th, pipping George Sutcliffe in 306th and Josh Kemp in 312th. Ben Mcintyre came back in 328th to round of this phenomenal teams performance. Of the 6 medals available in this race (3 individual, 3 team), Birmingham took home 5, with only the team bronze not making the journey back up the M40 with us, a simply incredible feat from a wonderful group of lads who’s hard work over the the last months and years made this possible.

The third race of the day was the women’s A race: a gruelling 8k against the strongest athletes in the country. The race in this format is still in its infancy, with Edinburgh in 2020 seeing the current format of 'A' and 'B' races for the girls make it's debut. Loughborough sported a very strong team, as did Edinburgh and St Mary's, but our girls were superstars, and they were more than up to the challenge. Despite the loss of front-runner Amelia Quirk, who sadly had to pull out of the race after a strong start, Saskia Millard, Charlotte Alexander and Maisie Grice gritted their teeth to give it everything they had. Buoyed on by the legendary BUAC tunnel, Maisie stepped up to the mark with the added pressure on her shoulders as she now became the third scorer for the team, showing great composure in the process. The girls could all be seen smiling as they came through the tunnel greeted by their teammates, showing the positivity in the camp that helped the girls along in their quest. The vibes were flowing and the girls were flying.

With Loughborough taking a dominant win both individually and in the team race, our girls were engaged in a battle with the green vests of Edinburgh for the silver medal. Edinburgh took 3rd and 5th place individually, meaning our girls needed something special to beat them. Luckily, that's exactly what they had in there locker. In her very first BUCS championships (been a long time coming!), Saskia Millard had an insane run to lead the team home in 6th, crying happy tears as she crossed the finish line! Fingers crossed for selection for World Uni Championships in Portugal in a few weeks’ time. Next to cross the line was fellow troublemaker Charlotte Alexander, leaving it all on the course and showing real guts to finish in a mighty 9th position. Maisie Grice rose to the occasion and completed the trifecta in 15th place, and with the 3rd Edinburgh scorer back in 27th the TEAM SILVER was secured - the first in this event since 2019 and no less than what these 3 lovely ladies deserved!

The last race of the day was the men’s A race. This is the one that every boy dreams of winning. 11, 9, 5, 2, - . That’s the finishing positions of the men’s A team at BUCS in the 6 years since we last won gold in 2016. Despite talents such as Jonny Davies, James Gormley, Andy Heyes, Toby Cooke, and Daniel Carpenter gracing these teams, the Gold medal just always eluded us. Having come agonisingly close to gold in Edinburgh, there was a real determination to end the 6 year wait and put Birmingham back on the top of the pile. 6 of Birmingham’s finest were selected with the aim of making that happen, the icing on the spectacular cake that is mens endurance running at Birmingham. It was a team that had it all, the wealth of experience of Michael Ward and Will Battershill the ever-consistent performer in Joe Hudson; the cross country specialists making their long awaited BUCS debut in Tomer Tarragano and David Stone; and the wildcard fresher Will Barnicoat, running his first ever 10k cross country race on the biggest stage of them all. The competition was the usual, with Loughborough and St Mary’s fielding strong teams. 10k, 3 laps, 4 to score but every place counts. The course was churned, the air was chilly, the stage was set. Everyone who wasn’t in the race was lining the course, and with the results that had gone before, no-one was more excited than the Birmingham faithful.

The pace was fierce from the gun, and unlike in the B race, a big group went with it, and even by the end of the first lap there was a large pack at the front that featured the entire Birmingham team. As the race started to take shape on the second lap, it was Battershill and Barnicoat who came to the fore, along with Zak Mahamed of Solent, with Joe Hudson close behind. Mike, Tomer, and David all packed well in the chase group around 10th. The BUAC support was thunderous, the group at the back end of the course, which had started as a handful of BUACers had swelled to a huge tunnel of noise, with Maddie Mastrolonardo giving Loughborough their L, and a chorus of supporters propelling our boys forwards towards the finish. As we entered the final 2 miles on the last lap, it was down to a two horse race for the win, and we had a stallion in Will Battershill. The race for bronze was also heating up, with Barnicoat and Hudson battling it out with Stonier of Loughborough, and Mike Ward was on the charge to join them. Tomer and David meanwhile were both embroiled in battles with Loughborough and St Mary’s scorers, with every position gained putting more air between us and our rivals. In the final stages, having matched the moves of Mahamed, Will Battershill turned the screw and pulled away. As he crossed the line, pumped his fist, he was confirmed as the 2022 BUCS Cross Country champion, the first BUACer to achieve this since Jonny Hay in 2015, a classy performance from a classy guy. Mahamed finished 2nd, Stonier 3rd, but then, a flurry of red. Will Barnicoat, having made his presence felt throughout the race, finished 4th, an incredible performance from a man who was completing his first ever 10k cross country race, showcasing exactly how talented he is. Then came Mike Ward in 5th, he timed his race to perfection and looked unstoppable by the end. Despite a delayed start to his cross season, Mike topped his performance in Edinburgh last time out when he was our first scorer, and juggled all his training this winter with the demanding schedule of being a 3rd year clinical dentistry student on full time placement! Joe Hudson was close behind in 6th, with just 4 seconds separating Barnicoat and himself, with Mike sandwiched in the middle. A terrific run from a man who has come so far in his time in the club, thanks in no small part to his tremendous attitude. He showed his talent 2 years ago with his 12th place finish in the B race, but to convert that to 6th in the A is no mean feat, and Joe is a prime example of how to make the most of what you have. After Joe, we had just enough time to take in breath before Tomer Tarragano returned home in 12th, beating half the Loughborough and St Marys scorers in the process. It was a typically clinical performance from a man whose name is a perennial herb and who knows how to get it right on race day. David Stone ensured we had our entire team home in the top 20 with a storming run. Finishing 20th at BUCS XC is impressive in the best of circumstances, but for David, having only been back running 9 weeks ago, running only his second race in two years (the trial was the first), this was a sign of the class of athlete he is and he will only get better.

In terms of the team, they scored 16 points, our lowest ever score in this race, which confirmed an emphatic win. The team was so dominant in fact, that even if you took out our highest finishers in Will and Will, and replaced their scores with Tomer and David’s finishes, we still would have won. I can think of no better example of just how good those 6 boys were on Saturday. As already mentioned, this was the culmination of years of work from every man in the squad, from Bud, Dean, and Luke, and it was no less than anyone deserved. We may have had to wait 2 years for this edition of BUCS, but this was worth the wait.

And then it was time for it all to sink in. The field was strewn with figures in red, smiling from ear to ear. There were hugs, there were cheers, and from some, even tears. The elation was clear to see, after 6 years without a gold medal of any description in this race, this dream of a team had just won 5 in one day. With a total of 10 medals, (5 golds, 3 silvers, 2 bronzes), we eclipsed not only our club record haul (7 in 2011), but also broke the record for most team medals won by any university ever at BUCS cross country. This was the culmination of the hard work and sacrifice of over 120 dedicated athletes, the commitment and graft of all of our amazing coaches, and the ethos of an entire club that made sure that we not only won, but we won the right way. We can all be proud of everything we did this weekend and I’m sure we have made lifelong memories. I'm just glad that after 18 months people no longer have to take my word for just how good BUCS XC is! So thank you to all of you for making the weekend so special, I hope you all enjoyed it, and I also hope you are still just as hungry to do it all again in 2023.

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