SOUTHAMPTON AC opened their 2018 Southern Athletics League campaign with a visit to Dartford.

The club were in many ways victims of their own success as the achievement of qualifying both male and female outfits in the National Road relay Championships, held on the same day, effectively decimated the middle-distance track squad.

Consequently, the consensus of team managers Kate Higgins (men) and Sara MacDonald-Gray (women) was that anything better than last place would be quite a result.

Perpetuating the old adage that Southern League teams tend to be overwhelmingly populated by young athletes and those at the long end of the senior age-group, Southampton set about their task.

Wins were tough to come by but, in the sprints, Josh Parry marked his team debut with a 100m/200m double, clocking 10.9 and 22.2 seconds for easy wins.

No less impressive was Owen Lawrence, adding a B-string 200m win in a personal best 22.7 secs.

One-lapper Lynden Olowe clocked his fastest ever season’s opener with a dominant 49.2 sec 400m victory.

First year under-17 Lucy Jane Matthews took to senior competition like a duck to water, battling to an impressive winning 200m personal best of 25.2 secs, which followed her A-string long jump victory in a new best of 5.68 metres.

In the field, the blend of youth and experience was working well.

Discus colossus Chris Scott finished almost 13 metres clear of the opposition with a mighty 55.04m. Chris only had to look over his shoulder to get a glimpse of the future as under-17 team mate Joshua Douglas won the B-string with an impressive 42.54m.

Douglas literally only realised he was throwing the senior weight when he jumped on the team bus and his first experience of throwing the 2-kilo disc was in the heat of battle. For good measure, he also gained second place in the A string Shot, heaving 11.75m.

Emily Jenkinson, still an under-23 herself despite several seasons in the senior team showed a welcome return to form in the 800m with 2.19.7 mins before securing B-string 400m victory with 60.5 sec.

The men’s middle-distance squad provided a backbone of consistency. Matt Coffey took time off from coordinating the distance challenge to clock 16.07.1 mins in the 5000m. James Smith won the B-string with 16.35.9 mins. Matt then went on to make his steeplechase debut, winning the 2000m event with 7.09.2 mins.

Youngsters were again to the fore in the field. Under-23 Adam Jones won the high jump easily with 1.95m and B-string Under-17 Callum Gregson did likewise, clearing 1.75m.

A brace of wins in the 110m hurdles came courtesy of Matthew Hewitt 15.4 secs and ever-present Thomas Rady 17.0 secs.

From the outset, Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow and Chelmsford were always going to be too strong, but the two-thirds strength Southampton team kept them in sight all match while comfortably keeping ahead of the host club.

The match position was consolidated by the finely drilled relay teams.

In the sprint relays, Sophie Feist, Lucy-Jane Matthews, Hannah Childs and the experienced Emily Fry combined slick changeovers to secure second, just a stride behind the powerful Windsor squad.

The men’s team of Fábio Porto Cunha, Joshua Parry, debutant Under-17 Joe Hannan and Ryan Coles pressed the Windsor men’s team all the way to the finish.

In the women’s 4 x 400m event, Emily Jenkinson, first-year Under-17 Chloe Errington, Alex Burchill and Hampshire 400m champion Emma Froome were strong runners-up to Chelmsford.

Their male counterparts were determined to break the hearts of the opposition early on. Front-loading the effort by running Owen Lawrence and Lynden Olowe on the opening legs, the team established a dominant lead at halfway.

Under-20 James Jerrim surrendered not a metre of that lead on third leg and anchorman Matt Billington kept his head, even extending the advantage along the home straight.

The Southern League now takes a break until the next fixture at Crawley on May 20.

Match result: Chelmsford 216, Windsor, Slough & Eton 204, Southampton 177, Dartford Harriers 165.