Severely hit by illness and injury, the final round of Arena League saw Berkhamsted returning to the Inspire Luton pool complex with a very inexperienced squad – but as always, those present stepped up and performed beyond expectations.
Eli MacDonald showed the way with a typically gutsy performance in the 200 IM. Aggressive from the off, Eli reduced her PB by almost a second and a half and set the tone for the night.
Jordan Northwood followed with his best 200 IM swim for a while, fighting all the way to fourth in 2:17.80.
The first set of relays began with the 9 to 11-year-old girls, where Berko quartet Tamsin Moren, Elliss MacNab, Lydia Wisely and Lara Coster were all first time Arena swimmers and all except MacNab have at least another year in the age group.
The girls gave 100 per cent in every race, with Moren going over a second faster than ever before in her freestyle lead off leg.
For the boys, Tom Holmes-Higgin, David Graham and Sam Baker were joined for the first time by James Boylan and picked up fifth in their freestyle relay.
The 12-13 girls – Roisin Clarke, Amelie Baker, Izzie Soulsby and Izzy Sansom – competed hard in their medley relay before James Corner’s storming effort brought the squad of Callum Bullock, Louis Armitage and a flying Ish Rahim through to second place in their medley.
Charlotte Watson (29.27), Abbie Hurst (29.22), Ellen Northwood (29.53) and Amy Pemberton (28.80) repeated the second place in their 4x50 free relay, with the squad being the first 14/15 team where all four girls went sub-30s for the club and a set new club best for the event.
The girls were quick enough to create the fastest ever 200m free relay from any female team for the club as well, but their placing was improved on by the boys’ team of Jamie Hoyes (25.79), Peter Lever (27.87), Zac Patel (27.16) and Chris Nel (25.05) who came home winners by 6s.
The two open squads followed up, with Emily Kiernan, MacDonald, Eleanor Jolliffe and Harriet Collinge picking up fifth, and Tom Strakosch, Ollie Hurst, Sam Newman and Northwood taking a valiant fourth. The team’s efforts produced a PB for Strakosch on his 50 back lead off leg (29.42) and a club best to boot.
The individual events recommenced with Moren showing how in-form she is currently with a 1.6s improvement in her 50 back. Louis Armitage went quicker than ever before in his 50 breast and Watson cruised home in seconf place in her age group 100 back.
Patel has stepped into a higher class recently and, although being in his first Arena gala at this level, as a replacement, he showed he ought to have been a first choice anyway taking almost 0.7s from his 100 back PB with his effortless style.
MacDonald was back in the pool again with third in her 100 fly, showing her typical determination in the final length to stay ahead of the fast charging fourth-placed swimmer, just 0.02s outside her PB. Newman’s 100 fly repeated his week-old PB with a strong second 50 for 1:04.41.
The club’s first individual win came in event 22 with Rahim a class apart from his opposition and able to save some energy for later, easing off but still 3s clear at the finish.
As always, the club is strong in the fly events and Ellen Northwood’s return to form continued as she lowered her week-old 100 fly again to win her individual race with a club best performance.
Hoyes dug deep to set his own PB just one event later, dropping 0.12s to go 1:03.55 for second place and register his own club best performance.
Fourteen-year-old Watson stepped into the open squad for the 100 back and, with a powerful performance, claimed a second place to repeat her age group position.
In the 10/11 girls’ age group, MacNab - not normally a breaststroker - improved by over two and a half seconds.
Then it was down to Rahim to show why he is so highly rated in the 100 fly, dropping his PB by 0.21 and finishing almost 10m ahead of his field. His time of 1:07.84 improved his own club best as well as ranking him second in his age in the county at the moment.
Pemberton claimed third in her 100 free and then Chris Nel put on a stellar performance, ripping the field apart from his dive, in the first 50 of his 14/15 100m free to take the victory at the final touch.
Abbie Hurst, 14, produced out a top class 100m breast display in the open age group race, just being outreached on the final stroke to take second, and then Ollie Hurst broke the club record and set his own PB with 1:10.77.
In the 12/13 years 100 free, both Baker and Corner set personal bests by a second, with Corner cementing his fastest in the county position at this moment in time
Then Ellen Northwood gamely stepped into the breach for the 100m breast at the last minute to place third in a county eligible time of 1:25.43 (PB).
Peter Lever does not swim the breast events very often but lowered his own 100m breast time by over a second with 1:24.55 and then Eleanor Jolliffe improved her BSC 100m free time to 1:04.41.
It is the relays that show the ‘all for one and one for all’ approach that typifies the club, with placings better than the average individual finishes.
In the final set of relays the U16 girls (Watson, Hurst, Northwood and Pemberton) were 8s clear of the third-placed team in their medley.
The boys (Patel – lead off leg PB; Nel, Hoyes and Lever were just pipped into third place in a close finish before the final two races of the night, the 6x50 open free relays. These are always the noisiest events of the night and set the pulse racing,
For the girls, Pemberton, Kiernan (inside her individual PB), Collinge, Watson, Jolliffe and MacDonald powered to second place and the boys’ team of Hoyes, Northwood, Newman, Hurst, Strakosch and Nel came out on top of the three-way battle for third place in a club best 2:37.47.
Nel showed how important takeovers are in these races as he took two body lengths out of the next team at the final change with a fantastically timed takeover and start.
Overall, fifth on the night and 13th in the league, the club looks forward to 2016 from a strong base, with a powerful squad of swimmers and a terrific back room team who help make the club what it is.