Now for one of the most popular events at the regatta, The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup.
8 crews have been selected, and for the first time in a very long while my old school of Abingdon aren’t among them! But of the selected crews there are four British, 3 American, 1 Canadian and 1 German school.
The top of the draw has the top US school crew,135 Gonzaga College High School. They have had an outstanding season winning at both the SRAA championships and taking the prestigious Stotesbury Cup and will be looking to become the first US school to win the PE since 2006. They start their campaign against Bedford School who just missed out on the medals in the 1st 8’s division at the National Schools. I think the Americans will be too strong for Bedford.
Somewhat surprisingly Salisbury School of the USA aren’t Selected. They won the National Scholastic Championships but 5 of that crew are 19 years old and so are ineligible to race in this event. So their speed has been neutered somewhat. They race Reading Blue Coat School on Wednesday which should line them up to race the 2nd of the Selected crews; 133 Eton College.
Eton have a fantastic pedigree in this event, the defending champions they were also winners in 2009 and 2010. Under the guidance of Alex Henshilwood they are always a force to be reckoned with at Henley. At the National School’s they picked up the bronze medal and Henshilwood has been tweaking the line-up of his top boat all season. His final line-up raced in Senior 8’s at Marlow finishing an excellent 4th place. They have a relatively straightforward first round clash against Monmouth and then a bigger challenge from Salisbury.
The third Selected crew in the top half of the draw are Philips Academy, Andover of the USA. Andover are one of the top US crews, 2nd at the NEIRA championships. They have been in the UK for a few weeks and raced in Senior 8’s at Marlow Regatta winning the B-Final. They also have a relatively straightforward start to their regatta having drawn St Georges College, Weybridge. They missed out on an A-Final spot in the 1st 8’s at the National Schools Regatta and may struggle against the Americans.
A really exciting first round race pits Hampton against Shrewsbury. In previous years this could’ve been a match-up worthy of a semi-final or even the final. But neither crew are selected this year so it was always possible that the draw could throw-up this sort of race. Hampton were bitterly disappointed to miss out on the A-Final at the National Schools and ended up finishing 2nd in the B-Final. They raced in Intermediate 2 8’s at Marlow and finished 5th in the B-Final. Shrewsbury did make the A-Final at NSR and finished 5th. They will be expecting to defeat Hampton in round 1 but one thing that can be guaranteed is there will be a huge amount of support on the banks for both these schools.
The final crew Selected in the top half of the draw are 166 Westminster School. They are the outstanding school in Britain this season. Winners of the School’s Head and the National School’s they are going for the elusive “Triple”, the “Holy Grail” of GB schoolboy rowing. Coached by Billy Mason they have some outstanding athletes onboard. Sam Meijer is one of the most exciting young scullers in the country and is a junior world silver medallist. Oswald Stocker and Alex Balgamie both rowed for GB at the Munich Junior Regatta this year. They raced IM2 at Marlow and won by two seconds ahead of Radley. I likely semi-final showdown with Gonzaga will be very interesting.
In the bottom half of the draw the first selected crew are 153 St.Paul’s. They have been going toe-to-toe with Westminster all season and coach, Bobby Thatcher, has put together an outstanding unit and they stand a very good chance of winning the trophy for the first time since 1997. They were 2nd to Westminster at the National Schools. They have a tricky first round clash against Abingdon. As with the Shrewsbury v Hampton race, this could well be a semi-final or final in other years. It’s the first time for a very long time that Abingdon have not been selected. The equalled the record in 2013 for winning a hat-trick of PE titles (equalling Bedford’s record set in the first three post-war regattas) They are also the course record holders. This year however their form has slipped. They finished 6th at the National Schools and will have a huge battle to progress to Thursday’s racing (a fate that has not befallen them for over 20 years). There will be some very nervous Abingdon supporters at noon tomorrow!
The next selected crew are 149 Ratsgymnasium Osnabruck, Germany. They are the German School 8’s champions winning the Schuler-Achter Cup. This then won them a weekend training camp with the senior men’s 8 and an entry to Henley. They raced at Henley last year losing to Radley in the quarter finals. They face the London Oratory School on Wednesday and should then progress to a meeting with the winners of either St Edwards or Lawrenceville School USA. Teddies missed out on the A-Final at the National Schools and Lawrenceville were 6th at the SRAA champs.
Next of the Selected crews are 148 Radley College. 4th at the National schools they were runners-up to Westminster in IM2 at Marlow. They always seem to find extra speed when it comes to Henley but haven’t actually gotten their names on the trophy since 1998. This year they face George Watson’s College on Wednesday morning which should be a comfortable start to their campaign.
The final selected crew in the draw are 156 Shawnigan Lake School Canada. Winners of the PE in 2008, they are the Canadian school’s champions, winning by a comfortable 2 lengths. They could well pose the biggest threat to St Paul’s in the bottom half of the draw. They race Belen Jesuit Preparatory School USA in the first race after tea. A win will see them face off the winners of Boston College High School USA or Winchester College. I would expect Boston, who finished 4th at the NEIRA championships to progress.
So who am I going to pick. The top half of the draw is likely to see a Gonzaga v Westminster semi-final with the bottom half being St Pauls v Shawnigan. I’m going to plump for an all-UK final with Westminster getting the better of St.Paul’s again.