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Ennis among Leagues stars in UK Challenge

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The UK Challenge continues to incite athletes to chase ‘prizes for points for performances’ at the opening matches in this summer’s UK Women’s League and the second round of British League fixtures over the weekend of 2 and 3 June.


The UKWL First Division and BAL Premiership goes ahead at the Manchester Regional Arena (11am start) with clubs finding a variety of ways to combat the facts that some athletes are heading for the Norwich Union Glasgow Grand Prix while the IAAF Combined Events Challenge in Arles, France, is giving Kate Brewington, Ros Gonse and Roger Skedd the chance to impress selectors of the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland Teams for this summer’s European Cup of Combined Events while Louise Hazell and Jade Surman are chasing qualifying standards for the European Under 23 and Junior Championships respectively.


The heptathlete who has set the domestic scene alight already this season, Jessica Ennis, interrupts the final exams of her Psychology degree course at Sheffield University to turn out for Trafford AC in the UKWL against league champions Edinburgh Southern Harriers, Birchfield Harriers, Cardiff AAC, City of Glasgow AC, Sale Harriers Manchester, Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers and Woodford Green with Essex Ladies.


Ennis currently stands third in the world heptathlon rankings behind the World, Olympic and European champion Carolina Kluft (who is pictured between her and Kelly Sotherton on our home page) and Lyudmila Blonska after the first two major combined events competitions of the summer. But, proving that nothing is easy in athletics, Ennis’s UKWL opponents include world triple jump champion Trecia Smith (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) in the long jump, UK Inter-Counties champion Sara McGreavy (City of Manchester) in the 100m hurdles and AAA champion Julie Dunkley (Shaftesbury) in the shot.


Trafford also include UK Challenge hammer champion Shirley Webb, who flies in from her Germany training base to partner newcomer Rachel Gair from Mansfield Harriers, plus established stars such as Susan Moncrieff, who is determined to become the outright UK high jump record holder before this season is too much older.


But, as ever, they could be hard pressed to keep up with their near neighbours, Sale Harriers Manchester, whose run of six consecutive titles was dramatically ended by Edinburgh Southern Harriers last summer.


Sale have added to their squad England international pole vaulter Emma Lyons and BUSA discus champion Dayana Octavien, the USA thrower who is studying at the University of Bath; welcome back fit-again Becky White, who is due to double up in the long and triple jumps; and call on Loughborough International high jump winner Steph Pywell to partner the UK’s current second ranked junior Adele Lassu. And, of course, McGreavy, the UK Challenge 100m hurdles champion, will be eager to wrest from Ennis the top spot in her event.


Shaftesbury’s squad includes UK Challenge triple jump champion Nadia Williams partnering exciting Scottish teenager Nony Mordi, pole vaulter Zoe Brown and a host of talented juniors including hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton, who goes in the sprints.


Birchfield can call on new Inter-Counties hammer record holder Zoe Derham, UK Challenge javelin champion Jo Blair, Inter-Counties 400m gold medallist Kelly Massey plus yet more high class juniors including UK School Games 400m hurdles champion Meghan Beesley.


In the simultaneous British League Premiership match, champions Belgrave Harriers will seek to recover from their sixth place in last month’s opening fixture against Birchfield, Newham and Essex Beagles, Sale, Shaftesbury, City of Sheffield AC, Trafford and Woodford.


Sale – who compete in national leagues under the title City of Manchester – will look to consolidate their victory in the first match. They include World Junior medallist Alex Nelson for his first 200m of the season, have Scottish long jump record holder Darren Ritchie in the triple jump, welcome back high jumper Rob Mitchell and hammer thrower Mike Floyd alongside top junior Alex Smith, and give hurdler Andy Turner places in both flat sprints.


Beagles team will be stronger than at Barnet despite being without UK pole vault No.1 Steve Lewis (competing in Cologne), Mo Farah (calf injury), Craig Pickering, Ryan Scott, Rikki Fifton and Gianni Frankis (all in the Norwich Union Glasgow Grand Prix). Into the team come UK long jump record holder Chris Tomlinson alongside Chris Kirk and former GB Junior discus international Simon Cooke. And big points will be expected from Daniel Plummer and Mark Findlay in the 100m.


Shaftesbury Barnet men are having a hard time with exams, injuries and meetings abroad all taking a heavy toll. But they will look for big scores in the throws from Kevin Brown and Neville Thompson (discus), Graeme Allan and Graham Holder (hammer), Allan and David Parker (javelin) plus any two from the above in the shot.


Woodford, of course, have two reigning UK Challenge throws champions, Emeka Udechuku in the discus and Andy Frost, whose hammer exploits earned him the Man of the Match Award last month.


Trafford, seventh in the opening match, are without discus thrower Chris Gaviglio, who has returned home to Australia for his wedding but promises to be back in time for the next match. In his place, Les Richards will double-up in the shot and discus. The team’s efforts to rise above the relegation zone will be further boosted by Jared Deacon emerging from retirement to partner reigning UK Challenge champion Rick Yates in the 400m hurdles, Femi Akinsanya triple jumping despite injury worries, and GB Junior Tom Minshull lining up alongside Greg Taylor in the 1500m.


The other BAL fixtures, also part of the UK Challenge, are on Saturday 2 June: National One at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre, North London; National Two at Swansea; and National Three at Southampton.


UKWL matches on Sunday 3 June: Division Two at Wigan; Division Three at Swansea; and Division Four at Gateshead.