REIGNING champion Ruth Barnes heads the Wiltshire senior women’s team for the South West Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships in Yeovil on Sunday.

Barnes claimed a superb victory in Exeter 12 months ago and the Avon Valley Runners member is hoping she can repeat that feat and get 2018 off to a flying start.

“I feel I am in good form having survived Christmas and New Year without any illnesses and I am hopeful that I can successfully defend my title,” said Barnes.

“It was definitely a bit of a surprise last year and I guess we’ll have to see who turns up on the day.”

Barnes is one of four Avon Valley members in the senior women’s squad, along with Bethan Francis, Jackie Rockliffe and Veryan Cranston, while Chippenham Harriers have two runners in the squad with Cordula Hurcum and Karen Hacker.

“Hopefully there will be a strong turnout because at this stage of the year, I would rather finished second or third after a hard, competitive run that cruise to victory on my own,” added Barnes.

Recently crowned Wiltshire and Tri-Counties senior men’s champion Simon Nott, of Calne Running Club, has declined the opportunity to race so the squad is headed by Chippenham-based veteran Gary Dunstone who finished sixth in the county event.

Caroline Brenchley and new Wiltshire champion Jade Littlechild finished fifth and eighth respectively in the event last year and on form will be expected to both push for the top six in the U17s age group on Sunday.

New Wiltshire champion Otto Copping leads the U17 men’s squad, while in-form county silver medallist Megan Wright, of Chippenham Harriers, is in the U15 girls’ squad.

The course at Aldon Hill has previously been used for Somerset Schools’ events and chair of South West Athletics Keith Reed said it was important to spread the event around after five years in Devon.

He said: “There were a number of reasons we took the decision and one was that it is good to move the event around the region to give other people a chance to take part.

“Aldon Hill is an excellent course with good parking and is spectator friendly. I am sure everyone will really enjoy the venue and it will prove to be a testing course.”