Worcester Swimming Club missed out on a place in the prestigious National Arena League final after a nail-biting finish at Nuneaton this weekend.

Drawn against some of the biggest clubs in the Midland’s region including City of Derby, Leicester Sharks, Boldmere, City of Coventry and Braunstone, Worcester required a top two finish to reach the national finals held in Cardiff in April.

Pre-gala favourites Derby and Boldmere both got off to strong starts, recording maximum points in the opening events.  Worcester didn’t have to wait long, however, for the first win of the evening, with the boy’s 13/u 4 x 50m medley relay team of Daniel Day, Sam Hartley, Will Gearey and Louis Doyle snatching victory from rivals Boldmere.

Worcester’s next win was delivered by the boy’s 15/u 4 x 50m freestyle relay, with Matt Richards, Matt Thomas, Aaron Cook and Kai Gooden-Morris proving far too strong for the other teams and winning by a considerable margin.  And the team’s third victory in the relays was claimed by the Men’s Open 4 x 50m medley quartet of James Marsh, Anthony Redfern, Robin Williams and Joel Smith winning in spectacular fashion.

After the first ten events, three teams had already opened a gap on their rivals, with Derby taking an early lead with 43 points, Worcester in second place on 40 and Boldmere in third on 38.

With the first set of relays completed, the gala moved to the individual events across the age groups.

David Annis was again in excellent form as he had been in earlier rounds, easily winning the boy’s 11/u 50m backstroke by over 5 metres in 36.13.  Gearey retained his unbeaten record in the competition, producing a personal best of 1.12.80 in the boy’s 13/u 100m breaststroke for maximum points.  Williams produced a superb display of underwater work in the Men’s Open 100m fly, using the turns to maximum effect to notch up another win for Worcester in 56.66.

Annis was soon in action again, this time taking the field apart in the boy’s 11/u 50m fly in dominant style in 35.09 to record his second maximum points for Worcester.  Richards looked a class act in the boy’s 15/u 100m fly, ducking under the minute barrier for the first time on his way to an easy victory in 58.89.

At the half way point, Derby remained in the lead with 107 points, with Worcester remaining second on 104, having opened up a seven-point gap on Boldmere back in third on 97.

The next eight events saw the top three clubs battling for points, with Boldmere enjoying the best series of results to claw back into contention with Derby and Worcester.

Gearey and Richards were in action again, both claiming maximum points to keep Worcester in the hunt.  Gearey dominated the boy’s 13/u 100m fly, winning by a clear margin in 1.02.48 and over five seconds ahead of his nearest rival.  Richards never looked troubled in the boy’s 15/u 100m free, taking an early lead from the gun and clocking an excellent time of 54.45.  Olivia Fletcher gave Worcester a hat-trick of consecutive wins, coming first in the girl’s 15/u 100m free in an impressive 1.00.30.

After 34 results, the gala couldn’t be closer, with Worcester now level with Derby in first place on 135 points, and Boldmere just one point behind on 134.

Derby’s next set of events though proved to be decisive in the overall result, with the club enjoying four wins out of eight.  Boldmere managed two wins, while Worcester came very close in several events to winning but couldn’t quite pull a victory off.

With all the individual events complete and just the team relays left, Derby had now pulled away into a clear lead with 170 points, with Boldmere over-taking Worcester to move into second on 162 and Worcester back in third on 156.  Worcester knew they required a massive effort across the team events to stand a chance of qualifying for the final.

Worcester were soon back in the chase, thanks to an early win for the boy’s 11/u 4 x 50m medley team with Annis, Michael Agoston, Adam Rutter and Milo Reed powering to maximum points.  The girl’s 13/u 4 x 50m freestyle and 15/u 4 x 50m medley were just edged into second place but by beating Derby and Boldmere, kept Worcester in contention.

The boy’s 13/u 4 x 50m freestyle team snatched victory in dramatic style from Boldmere, winning on the touch.  Doyle and Gearey were joined by Brodie Willetts and Isaac Shepherd, with Gearey chasing down Boldmere on the final leg in a thrilling finish.  The next victory was delivered by the boy’s 15/u 4 x 50m medley team, with Harvey Lloyd joining Richards, Cook and Thomas on the breaststroke.  Worcester’s quartet proved far too strong for their rivals, running away with the victory in another dominant display.

With just one event remaining, there was just two points separating Boldmere and Worcester, meaning it was all down to the Men’s Open 6 x 50m freestyle relay team.  Redfern gave Worcester and early lead on the opening leg, with Williams and Smith both extending the team’s lead.  Ben Holmes and Marsh extended the team’s margin over Boldmere and Sam Hall brought the team home to victory, bringing the Worcester supporters to their feet.

The race behind Worcester, however, was to settle the overall result, with Derby and Leicester chasing Boldmere hard on the last two legs but unable to overtake them.  Boldmere’s second place was enough to keep Worcester in third and missing out on their first national final by a single point.

The final standings wereDerby 201, Boldmere 193, Worcester 192, Coventry 175, Leicester 171 and Braunstone 114.

The full squad also included Sam Hawes, Emma McKay, Bryony Lowe, Maisie Lyons, Olivia Eggleton, Issy Wilkinson, Ciara Mahanta, Megan Annis, Rebecca Yates, Georgia Hill, Lauren Annis, Hannah Dixon, Jenny Gearey, Charlotte Hall, Amber Harrison, Sophie Davis, Ellie McGinnes, Sophie Groves, Yasemin Tayar, Lucy Clayton and Charlotte Yates.