Two weeks today the biggest Junior event of the season will hit the Tideway as School's Head will bring more than 300 crews to one of the most challenging courses in the world. Hammersmith Head is an invaluable race for senior crews looking to perform as it's a perfect opportunity to test combinations or gain experience for a set crew. The telemetry and timings will be scrutinised by coaches as the smallest of changes can make a huge difference across the championship course. Last year Hammersmith was cancelled while crews were boating due to deteriorating conditions, so let's hope this year remains calm and rowable.
Division 3 sees all of the top schoolboy eights compete across 3 different categories. In Championship there are entries from St Pauls, Shrewsbury, Abingdon, Radley, Eton, KCS and Westminster. With all universities prioritising BUCS, St Pauls will look for a comfy win here. Radley are going to be hot on their heels though and after a top Wallingford Head performance will be taking SHORR very seriously, especially after last year's steering incident spoiling their time. Abingdon, Eton and Shrewsbury will need all the Tideway time they can get to learn the lines, but all three should put on a good show. Westminster look to be prioritising the quad again this year, but with a second 8 making it to the Thursday of Henley last year they won't be slow by any means. Intermediate sees entries from Latymer Upper and Hampton, both their top boats and both presumably having the smart idea to win a pot by entering this category. Hampton pipped Latymer at Schools Head last year, however Latymer performed better as the year progressed. Could be close. The schools category is filled with the rest of the school boats, save a rogue entry in Club 8's from Bedford's 2V. The fastest crews in this category will be St Paul's 2V, Eton's 2V, Shiplake and Bedford School. Judging from last year's schools head, Shiplake and Eton's 2V will be very close together a couple of seconds ahead of the equally competitive Bedford and St Paul's 2V. Bedford perhaps could have comfortably made the jump up to championship this year but have stuck in the schools category (especially given at SHORR they would've placed 6/16 if they'd entered Championship), but I think by SHORR they will; they have the 1st Eights Pennant and will be hungry for the Champ Eights Pennant, though years it may take to achieve. Other crews in contention will be Hampton's 2V who are on the map this season after beating St Paul's 2V at NSR. Under the lead of newly appointed coach Jon Neville Hampton entered a J18 Eight at Burway Head posting the fastest time of the day, with a majority 2nd Eight crew. With the likes of James Forster and Paul Carden in the middle four offering pure wattage, the boys will be looking to set a big marker down ahead of Shiplake's 2 eights. I'd presume most of the J16 Eight of 2018 that qualified in the Temple at HRR, did a 6:00 2k on the water, and won NSR will be in and around the 1st Eight but the ones who missed it slightly will be slotting into the seats of the Shiplake 2nd Eight, who aren't traditionally renowned for their squad depth.In a more surprising entry, Claires Court School have entered presumably their second 8, showing some promising squad depth and maybe even a return towards their form of 2016 … it would be great to see.
Hammersmith Head doesn't run an Open Quads category, forcing all junior quads into one category to battle it out together. Immediately looking at the draw, it's clear that the whole gang isn't present. No entries from Windsor Boys, Maidenhead or Leander make the battle for podium positions a lot more interesting. Still comfortable in their gold medal position will be Westminster, who after switching their priority boat to the quad last year have done very well amongst other more established sculling schools. Interestingly Dulwich, Great Marlow and Teddies all seem to have done the same with no eights entered and a quad in place. Be it from low numbers or high aspirations, it certainly spices up the category amongst regulars like Tideway Scullers and Claires Court. As is becoming commonplace amongst sweep programmes, Norwich have entered a 2V which could compete well against the club crews like Fulham Reach, Thames and Lea. Claires Court entering 2 quads on top of an 8 is a great indicator that they might be on a rise again, and I know many people will be interested in how they stack up. While the racing tomorrow won't give much of an insight into SHORR medallists it will sort out the lower positions and make it clear who is here to perform, and which quads are just along for the ride.
Unfortunately the women's eights entries are small in number this year with only 5 entries compared to the boy's 26. Notable absentees are Henley, Headington and Lady Eleanor Holles. These 3 came 1st, 2nd and 4th at NSR, so we can be relatively confident in Marlow Rowing Club to come out on top. Marlow consistently send athletes to GB and this year alone their younger athletes have recorded wins at Fours Head and Molesey Head. Consistently good performers, they're going to come near the top regardless. Their closest rivals will probably be Lea, who considered themselves championship level at SHORR last year, and their familiarity with large races will play into their hands nicely. Reading Blue Coat and Great Marlow are two schools more renowned for their boy's rowing perhaps, but both will draw from that a strong programme with plenty of experienced coaches. Team Keane are a smaller programme with a less competitive history than the other clubs in this category, but local knowledge counts for a lot on the tideway. An overall disappointing turnout for the category which could still yield some interesting results.
Making up for the lacklustre entries into the eights category, WJ18 quads is packed and many entrants will only be seconds apart over the nearly 3 mile course. In contention for gold will be Tideway Scullers from the club scene and Latymer Upper from the school scene. Tideway Scullers sent 6 girls to trials last week and this will be reflected in the standard of their crew - down their home course their advantage will be enormous, and these girls should be looking for a win. Latymer Upper School are also Tideway based and will have a home crowd roar as they approach the finish near their boathouse. They have swamped the event with 3 entries and even if these are matched crews I imagine all 3 will comfortably take many crews. Shiplake College and Royal Shrewsbury have both enjoyed recent success with their boy's squads, with Shiplake particularly enjoying trials success last week, and their top boats having access to the same excellent facilities as the boys they have little excuse not to be well-drilled. The smaller schools who have entered only 1 crew like St Pauls Girls, Sir William Perkin's and American School in London will likely be their top boats getting some more practice in before schools head. No matter how good a school's facilities are, training together for a long time is always the best path to finding speed and some of these schools may catch the bigger names with their backs turned.