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Butterfly capIt was back to school and then back to competitive swimming, when our Portland team arrived at Hucknall Leisure Centre for the first of the JC Dobb Autumn Round of galas and with the arrival of the cooler evenings, what better place to while away a Saturday evening than in the warm and humid atmosphere of Hucknall pool's spectators' gallery, watching our valiant swimmers competing for the first time, after the long summer break.

The first thing I observed, was that the average height of the team had increased significantly over the school holidays, which would surely lead to faster swims, although inevitably fitness levels would have been impacted by all those lazy days of summer and this had to be taken into account. It was anybody's guess as to how the evening would pan out.

The evening got off to a slow start for Portland, as there were not enough of our youngest swimmers to compete in the first two events, the girls' and boys' 10/u freestyle relays but we didn't have too long to wait for the first PB of the night, which went to Stan Toplass when he swam up and gained third place in the 14/u 50m backstroke.

We witnessed four solid swims against stiff competition when Olivia Wright, Amy Hardy, Connor Cruickshank and Tarun Mistry took to the water in the Mixed Open 4x1 medley relay and shortly afterwards Grace Artley, Efan Drury, Liam Hastings and Mai Drury put in a sterling effort and gained third place in the Mixed 8/9 4x1 freestyle relay.

Some great technique paid off for Edward Roberts when he achieved a PB and came second in the 14/u 50m breaststroke and Lucy Toplass earned herself a new PB with a very strong finish in the girls' race. There was some solid swimming from Cecily Kay, Lucy Waller, Maddie Poon and Fran Roberts in the girls' 12/u 4x1 freestyle relay, Millie Perry Jones gained her first PB of the evening in the girls' Open 50m breaststroke and Connor Cruickshank came in third after a great performance in the boys' race.

Another well earned second place went to the Mixed 8/9 4x1 breaststroke relay team, Grace Artley, Efan Drury, Luke Hastings and Mai Drury, with a flying start from Luke and a fast finish from Mai.

Lucy Waller displayed some lovely technique and recorded new times in the 10/u 25m backstroke and 25m freestyle and was third in this event, so a very good night for her. Efan Drury filled in for Finlay Cunnison and recorded a new time in the boys' 10/u 25m backstroke, so a big thank you to him for taking on an extra event and well done to Finlay for completing the rest of his events, even though he wasn't feeling on top form.

Liam Hastings looked very focused, as he prepared for the boys' 10/u 25m freestyle and not only came in second but also knocked an impressive 4.59 seconds off his previous time. There was a further second place for Portland, when Stan Toplass, Mia Cunnison, Angelina DiFolco-Brooks and Edward Roberts swam in the Mixed 14/u 4x1 medley relay. There were solid performances from all the team members but Angelina's fly was, to coin a phrase, 'poetry in motion' and there was more elegant fly from Maddie Poon, who came third in the girls' 12/u 50m fly and from Mai Drury in the Mixed 10/u 4x1 medley relay.

To round off the first half of the evening, Olivia Wright was our first swimmer to gain first place for Portland, when she swam in the Open 50m freestyle. It was a fantastic swim and even just watching Olivia was exhausting, so, at the halfway point, it was time for some sustenance. This took the form of a few haribo, generously donated by one of the senior swimmers, then it was back to my clip board for the second half of the gala.

This began with an excellent swim from Tarun Mistry, who sent the foam flying in the boys' Open 50m freestyle. Lucy Toplass did a brilliant 50m of fly in the 14/u race, taking third place. Cecily Kay came third and got a PB with her graceful technique in the 12/u 50m backstroke and Luke Hastings also demonstrated some very consistent backstroke in the 12/u age group and earned himself a PB.

Swimmers in the girls and boys Open 4x1 freestyle relay ranged in age from 12 to 18, with Stan Toplass being at the younger end of the age range and Amy Hardy being the most senior, having turned 18 a couple of weeks previously. Both teams put on seamless performances. Mai Drury looked very composed as she took second place in the 10/u 25m breaststroke and Angelina DiFolco-Brooks and Edward Roberts both came third in their 14/u 50m freestyle races, with Edward Roberts gaining his second PB of the night.

There was another first place for Olivia Wright in the Open 50m fly and Connor Cruickshank was third in the boys' race, which had a very close field. What a great night for Olivia! Mai Drury got a PB, taking 4.15 seconds off her previous time in the 10/u 25m fly and Liam Hastings achieved a second PB when he swam in the same event for the 10/u boys. He then had to go straight back to the starting blocks for the Mixed 8/9 4x1 medley relay, with Grace Artley, Lucy Waller and Efan Drury. The team managed a very respectable third place.

The girls 14/u 4x1 freestyle relay team of Angelina DiFolco-Brooks, Mia Cunnison, Maddie Poon and Lucy Toplass got off to a good start and came in third in their race and the boys team of Stan Toplass, Dan Hardy, Gabriel DiFolco-Brooks and Edward Roberts put on a slick performance and did very well, considering that seventy five per cent of the team were swimming up an age group.

There were three PBs among the last five events of the evening and these went to Fran Roberts for her lovely performance in the 12/u 50m freestyle, Dan Hardy, also for the 12/u 50m freestyle and Millie Perry Jones for the Open 50m backstroke, a very close race. This was Millie's second PB of the night, so well done to her. In his race, Dan had knocked an impressive 5.55 seconds off his previous time and had also managed not to part company with his goggles on this occasion, so a big improvement there.

As always, we ended with the cannon relay and our team consisted of Grace Artley, Mai Drury, Cecily Kay, Mia Cunnison, Amy Hardy, Efan Drury, Finlay Cunnison, Luke Hastings, Dan Hardy and Connor Cruickshank. It was nice to see so many sibling pairs in this event and the rivalry was only between clubs, not siblings.

All in all, it was a great evening for the Portland team, whose enthusiasm showed both in the water and on poolside. To conclude, I would like to say thank you to all those children, who had also returned to team sports that weekend but still managed to give their best throughout the competition and to those who encountered problems with goggles and still managed to carry on regardless. You know who you are ...

Dawn

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