National School’s Regatta preview – the big boats

Following on from my look at the singles and doubles at the National Schools it’s now time to look at the bigger boats.

Boys Championship Quads
46 crews. A big, big entry but for me this is going to be a two-horse race – Westminster v Sir William Borlase. At the Oarsport Junior Sculling Head Borlase got the better of Westminster. At the School’s Head of the River Westminster got their revenge. So far in the regatta season these two have avoided eachother. Borlase raced at Wallingford and took the J18 title by 8 seconds from Northwich. Westminster raced at Ghent winning U23 quads (albeit against limited opposition). Both schools had representatives in the GB team at the Munich Junior Regatta with Fraser Russell of Borlase racing in the quad with Sam Meijer of Wetminster on the Saturday and swapping with schoolmate Chris Lawrie on the Sunday, both crews delivering Team GB’s only victories at the regatta.
If these two will be fighting for the gold and silver then the bronze medal battle will be even more of a bunfight. Northwich have a talented quad, 2nd to Westminster at Wallingford and were winners ahead of the Grange School at Notts City. Also battling for the bronze will be Leander, with Harry Leask – my pick for the Champ 1X title – at stroke. They were 3rd at Wallingford (racing as Star & Arrow) and 4th at the Scullery Head.
The final crew to flag up are The Grange School with the Ozsanlav-Harris brothers (my pick for a medal in the Champ 2X) & were 2nd to Northwich at Notts City.

My picks….Westminster for gold just ahead of Sir William Borlase with Northwich in bronze.

Girls Championship Quads
27 crews. The standout crew for me are Gloucester Hartpury. The sports academy have two boats racing with the lead boat racing as the “B” crew. 3 of the crew (Alice Bowyer, Jasmine Bradley and Jessica Newson) won J18 quads at Wallingford. They are joined at the Nat Schools by Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne who was racing in the Nautilus quad in the Elite quads winning by 10 seconds ahead of Headington. Hodgkins-Byrne and Bowyer were also in the quad that won the schools head by over 30 seconds.This quartet will be very difficult to beat. The main challenge may well come from Headington School. They are the outstanding favourites in the 8 (more of that later) and have split their crew into two quads. It’s a mark of the strength of the squad that all the girls can switch disciplines with such apparent effortlessness. They finished 2nd to the Junior Nautilus composite in Elite quads at Wallingford.
Also look out for Tideway scullers with Issy Cole & Megan Saunders in the stern (my pick for a medal in the 2X) and also Bedford Rowing Club lead by the hugely talented Corinne Larkworthy (who I’ve tipped for a silver in the 1X). Eton Excelsior, winners of Junior quads at the Head of the River Fours,should also be in the mix with Abbie Mixter and Gabi Hatfield (also racing in the double) and Katherine Maitland (who is doubling up in the 1X)and Emma Moores (herself a GB trialist). Also contending for the final I would expect to see both Marlow and Latymer Upper. Marlow have Mollie Harding & Heidi Long who I’ve picked to win the 2X, along with Rose Wilson who is also racing in the 1X and Erica Holmes (who raced for England at the Home Countries Regatta last year).
There is so much talent on show it’s very difficult to pick the medalists but I think Gloucester will win ahead of Eton with Headington 3rd….or Marlow….ummm

Boys Championship 8’s
9 crews….the big one, the blue riband event of the championships.
I think this will come down to a three (or possibly four) way battle between St.Edwards, Eton, Abingdon and St.Pauls (so pretty much like every other year then!).
The early season pace was set by Bobby Thatcher’s St.Pauls. They won the School’s Head relatively comforrtably and have guys in the boat who haveperformed extremely well at the GB Trials. But, when it’s come to the 2K side-by-side stuff they have fallen off the pace a little, beaten by both St.Edwards and Eton at Wallingford. what’s uncertain is whether this was a blip in performance, whether their speed has tailed off, or whether the others have caught up.
The standout crew so far this summer have been St.Edwards, coached by Jonny Singfield. They took an excellent 2nd place behind St.Pauls at the Schools Head and then raced in the Elite 8’s at Wallingford finishing as the fastest school crew in 3rd (beating Eton into 4th and St.Pauls a distant 6th). They also won IM1 at Notts City. They will probably line-up on Saturday as marginal favourites.
Next in my line-up will be Eton, under Alex Henshilwood in the first year of his second stint at the school. In my opinion Henshilwood is one of the finest coaches currently working in Britain. In his first stint at Eton he produced one of the best schoolboy eights I have ever seen, (the 2010 triple winning crew with the likes of Stan Louloudis and Ed Nainby-Luxmore). Now back at Eton he is already starting to work his magic with his charges getting quicker and quicker and have a vitory over both Abingdon and St.Paul’s to their credit at Wallingford.
Abingdon are the 4th of by possible medal contenders. The regining champions and, possibly, the finest rowing school in the world (mind you as an old-Abingdonian I am a little be biased šŸ˜‰ ) they last failed to win a medal in 2007 when they finished 4th but they have been the most consistent school in this event this century. They have had a slow start to the season having had limited water time due to the severe flooding finishing 5th at the Schools Head. But, like St.Edwards, they have been getting quicker and quicker as the weeks progress. They lost narrowly to Eton at Wallingford and won J18 8’s comfortably at Bedford. coach Dave Currie has an inate ability to produce crews where the whole are greater than the sum of their parts and this season looks no different. As well as the National schools they will have more of a focus on Henley than before (if that’s possible) as they attempt to win the PE for a record breaking 4th consecutive year. My heart would love my old school to take the win this weekend, but my head says the regatta may have come a few weeks too early for them.
So, outside of these four, who else should you watch out for?
Radley have always performed strongly at the NAtional Schools, often beating many peoples expectations. But they, like St.Pauls, have struggled to translate Head of the river speed into regatta speed. They finished an excellent 3rd at the School’s head but struggled at Wallingford finishing 5th in the final of J18 8’s. A showdown with Abingdon at Bedford was missed as they scratched after their heat win against Winchester. My instinct is they will make the final but not a medal.
The final school to highlight are Athol Hundermark’s Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury are a school who are always “there or there abouts” but have always been just that little bit behind the top tier of the likes of Eton, Abingdon and Hampton. Hundermark is an excellent coach and led Abingdon to two Henley wins in 2011 and 2012. It is taking him time to work his magic at Shrewsbury but I predict they will become a true gold medal challenging school in another couple of years.

So, the tricky question….who will win?
My money is on St.Edwards to take the win, with my old school Abingdon in silver and Henshilwood’s Eton in third. But it’s going to be very, very tight.

Girls Championship 8’s
13 crews. For me this race will be dominated by Headington School. They went to the Head of the Charles in Boston finishing an excellent 10th. They followed this up with a 28 second win at the School’s Head of the River and an outstanding in in Elite 8’s at Wallingford. They are also racing in the Quad event (probably with an eye to the Junior women’s quad event at Henley). Barring accidents Ryan Demaine’s girls should win this comfortably.
Leading the rest of the pack will probably be Lady Eleanor Holles. LEH used to dominate girls rowing in this country but they have been eclipsed in recent years by Headington. They were a comfortable 2nd to Headington at the Schools Head and were disappointed to be beaten by Kings Chester in J18 8’s at Wallingford. Chester have improved significantly since the School’s Head (where they finished 10th more than a minute behind Headington and 2 seconds behind the Headington 2nd 8). so far in the regatta season Chester have wins in J18 at Wallingford and IM3 at Notts City.
i would also watch out for Sir William Borlase Grammar School. More reknowned as a sculling school they are beginning to make some serious noise in sweep and finished an excellent 3rd at the Schools Head of the River. They followed this up with a win in IM3 at Bedford.

For me this is the easiest event to predict a winner…Headington by lots of clear water with LEH in 2nd and Kings Chester 3rd.

Unfortunately that’s all the time I’ve got. I’d hoped to preview the 4- and 4+ and the J16 events but have run out of time (I do have to work for a living!) so my apologies for any that were looking for them. Enjoy the racing and I hope the weather gods are kind!

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