Worcester Swimming Club made the long journey up to Hucknall Leisure Centre in Nottingham for the opening round of the 2018 National Arena League, putting in an excellent performance to take second behind a very strong Leicester Sharks team.

Worcester, who narrowly missed out on the national final last year by a single point, were looking for a strong start to their 2018 challenge, and were drawn against Belper Marlin, Stourbridge, Sutton-in-Ashfield and City of Derby B as well as Leicester.  With six points up for grabs for first place, Worcester had picked a full-strength squad to travel to Nottingham.

The team started well, with second places in the first four events, edged out by a series of dominant swims from Leicester Sharks.  Worcester had to wait until event six for the team’s first victory of 16 wins on the night.  The boy’s 13/u 4 x 50m relay team of Dan Day, George Glover, Adam Rutter and Eddie Cox storming to victory in 2.10.42 and much-needed maximum points.

The next event produced another win for Worcester, with the girls 15/u freestyle relay team of Jenny Gearey, Megan Annis, Maddie Fox-Haskins and Josie Armstrong edging out rivals Belper in the final few strokes to take first in 1.55.30.

Worcester then made it a hat-trick of consecutive wins, with the boys 15/u freestyle relay team of Matt Richards, Will Gearey, Aaron Cook and Louis Doyle dominating from the gun for a comfortable victory in 1.43.08.

After 10 events, the gala looked to be a two-horse race, with Leicester in the lead on 52 points and Worcester hot on their heels with 51 points and Sutton back in third on 33 points.

David Annis was in superb form in the boys 10/11 year age group, bagging a brace of individual wins.  Annis’ first win came in the 50m backstroke, with a very close win in 35.13 from his Belper rival.  Annis then produced another strong swim in the 50m fly in 33.61 to claim maximum points for Worcester.

George Glover delivered the goods in the boys 13/u 100m breaststroke, taking a fantastic win in 1.18.81 from Belper and six points for Worcester.

Tabitha Monkhouse, back from studying at Swansea University, showed her class in the Ladies 100m fly, producing a tremendous effort to edge out the Leicester competitor and delivered a quick time of 1.04.17 to win in style.

After 18 events, Worcester (92 points) had snatched the lead from Leicester (87 points), with Belper still back in third (75 points).

Matt Richards had one of the busiest schedules, including swimming in the Open age group despite being only 14.  Richards’, currently one of the top ranked swimmers in the UK in multiple events in his age group, showed his phenomenal speed in his events.  Richards’ first win was the Men’s Open 100m fly, taking an incredible win in 57.07 against nationally-ranked older swimmers.  Richards then swam the boys 15/u 100m fly, taking victory with ease in 1.01.43 and showed his versatility by also winning the boys 15/u 100m breaststroke in 1.10.79 to round off a fantastic evening.

Daniel Day, one of many exciting young talents coming through the Worcester ranks, also claimed two individual wins in the 13/u age group.  In his strongest event, the 100m backstroke, Day proved far too quick, winning by a considerable margin in 1.04.55.  He then added victory number two in the 100m freestyle, again by a huge margin in 59.82 and over five seconds quicker than his nearest rival.

After 26 events, Worcester (132 points) had extended their lead over Leicester (124), with Sutton in Ashfield moving up to third place (90 points).

Olivia Fletcher and Will Gearey also won individual events for Worcester.  Fletcher never looked troubled in the girls 15/u 100m freestyle, leading from the start to win comfortably in 58.99 and the only swimmer in her race to duck under the minute barrier.  Gearey also claimed maximum points in the boys 15/u 100m freestyle, with a dominant performance and hitting the wall for the win in 54.91.

The team’s remaining wins came courtesy of the relays, with a second victory for the boys 13/u and 15/u teams.  In the 13/u age group, Brodie Willetts joined Day, Rutter and Glover to win the 4 x 50m freestyle in 1.57.68 and ensure maximum points from both relays.  In the 15/u age group, Alex Farmer joined Gearey, Richards and Doyle in the 4 x 50m medley, with another dominant performance and six points.

Leicester regained a slender lead (208 points) after 42 events over Worcester (204) meaning it was all to play for in the final relay events.

However, Leicester’s relay teams battled hard to hold off strong challenges from Worcester’s various age groups, managing to take victories in six of the eight relays, while Worcester grabbed two.  Leicester’s finish to the gala proved enough to stave off Worcester’s late challenge to take victory by only five points.

The final positions were:

Leicester 250
Worcester 245
Sutton 168
Belper 146
City of Derby B 140
Stourbridge 96

Worcester’s full squad included Sam Hall, Maisie Lyons, Lauren Annis, Isobel Foster, Michael Agoston, Rebecca Yates, Holly Workman, Matthew Thomas, Ben Holmes, Charlotte Hall, Amelie Forsyth-Ball, Aimee Monks, Lydia Cooper, Olivia Eggleton, Amelie Fox-Haskins, Harry Chandler, Charlie Dixon, Naomi Marsden, Lucy Clayton, Oscar Brain, Joel Smith and Beau Vaughan-Hawkins.

The draw for Round 2 of the National Arena League will see Worcester face Long Eaton, Blythe, Leamington Spa, Sutton-in-Ashfield and Bilston on 11th November, with a top two finish guaranteeing a place in the Regional Final.