A COMBINATION of factors meant the second round of this year’s Essex Cross-Country League at Colchester’s Hilly Fields was by no means at full strength.

The scheduling of the English Schools’ Cross-Country Cup regional final on the same day meant the youth sections were decimated while some of the south Essex’s top runners opted not to make the trip to the north of the county.

That all meant there were plenty of opportunities for others to shine and one of those who did was Southend AC youngster Toby Wright, who claimed his first Essex League victory in the under-13 boys’ race.

With the winner of the first race in the series, Gus Withers, on school duty, Wright stepped up to the plate to claim a comprehensive win ahead of Basildon’s Mason Webb.

Webb’s team-mate Joe Wakerley ran well to finish in ninth spot, one place ahead of East Essex Tri’s Luke Gill.

There was very little south Essex presence in the under-13 girls race, won by Chelmsford’s Khai Mhlanga, with Southend’s Meghan Samuels the first of our runners home in 15th place.

Jodie Judd (Chelmsford) was beaten into second place by Sophie Tooley (West Suffolk) in the under-15 girls’ race. Southend’s Lucy Kidwell was seventh.

Basildon’s Christian Gray produced a storming finish to claim his best ever finish in an Essex League fixture.

The teenager took second spot in the under-15 boys’ race and led the Basildon team to a resounding team victory.

Team-mates Daniel Ashley (fifth) and Ben Haynes (eighth) both made the top 10 while their final scorer Ollie Cantwell was not much further back in 12th.

Southend’s Adam Jordan ran well for fourth spot and Thurrock Harriers’ Gary Cahill was sixth.

There was another barnstorming finish in the under-17 men’s race where, for the second league match in a row, Basildon’s Adam Houchell picked off a man in the final 100m.

Houchell outsprinted Cambridge & Coleridge’s Kieran Wood to take second behind Colchester & Tendring’s Jordan Rowe who won on his home course.

Southend AC’s team has long been dominant in this age group and they proved that once again by easily sealing victory in the team standings.

Rob Frith and Ben Franklin were neck and neck in fourth and fifth resepectively for the Seasiders, while Steve Hancock (eighth) and Josh Mann (ninth) meant the whole scoring team were inside the top 10.

Basildon AC are equally as dominant in the under-17/20 women’s category as they picked up yet another team victory.

Alice Perkins ran terrifically well again to come through for third place and lead the team home, with Eleanor Johnson (seventh) and Maisie Jones (ninth) also showing good form to make the top 10. Kaylee Dodd completed the team by finishing in 11th place.

There was a surprise at the head of the race as Cambridge & Coleridge’s Claire Wilson got the better of Thurrock Harriers’ Gemma Holloway who has been so dominant on the country for the past year.

There was not much representation at the very head of the fields in either the senior women or senior men’s races for south Essex athletes.

Benfleet’s Charlotte Peppiatt was the best placed local finisher in the women’s race in 10th place, while Southend AC’s David Gibbon was 10th in the men’s race, just edging out the first Basildon runner home, Grant Webb.