Despite a big focus on the quads, the junior fours event has an impressive twenty entries competing for the Groton School Challenge Cup, including two US crews and the CH G4- winners from National Schools, Henley RC.
Henley have consistently been the ones to beat for the past two seasons or so. Having said that, while both their quad and four topped their events at NSR, their silver medal in the championship eights behind Lady Eleanor Holles was quite the upset. They lost to Putney High School in the final of this event at HWR last year and no doubt they will want to overturn that result, especially with members of last year's crew returning to this event. Their result at National Schools leave no doubt that they have the strength to do that.
The only crew from the NSR A final joining Henley in this event is Godolphin and Latymer's B crew, who finished a good forty seconds behind the former. However, Canford and The King's School, Worcester both had solid rows in the B final to put down a quicker time than Godolphin, so we could expect some changes in the margins this weekend.
Godolphin have an A crew entered that looks to be close to the same lineup that finished 5th in Non-Ch G4+ at NSR. They had a strong time trial and semi but they were quite a way off the pace of the winners of that final in the shape of Kingston RC. Godolphin will want to prove that their result in the final didn't fully reflect their capability, and a strong second place in the time trial shows they have it in them.
Harwood and Medcalf of the aforementioned winning Kingston crew also topped J18 pairs at GB trials and again at NSR. These are a really exciting set of results for the club in what has been a phenomenal few seasons for their junior programme, led by coach Florence Griffiths. The coxed and coxless fours are very different boats, and Kingston's experience in the coxed four might give them a slight upper hand, but this is quickly negated by Henley's home water advantage. At Wallingford Regatta, Kingston came out on top by less than a second, and another matchup between Henley and Kingston is sure to be a cracker of a race. After topping the J16 fours event here last year, will Kingston manage to add the J18 event to the collection?
Looking further at the Non-Ch G4+ event at NSR, this draw also features the silver and bronze medallists from Walton RC and Sir William Perkins' School respectively. Four and six seconds separated them from Kingston, a margin that they will look to close on at Henley. Durham School, Stratford-upon-Avon, Pangbourne and George Heriot's were a little further off the pace to finish in the top twelve crews, while Shrewsbury placed 16th in the TT to miss out on the A/B finals.
St Paul's Girls' School finished tenth, but here they are entered in a composite with Tideway Scullers. This crew could be a dark horse in this event. Two of the SPGS girls won the challenge pairs at Wallingford Regatta after coming 4th at GB trials. TSS's Goodall was 5th in a tight final in the quads at NSR, while Mavra was one of the fastest non qualifiers racing in the TSS B quad in the same event. They certainly have their fair share of experience amongst the athletes and will be keen to surprise some of the more established crews.
The Headington crew are made up of their bronze medal winning second eight at NSR who just missed out on qualifying as the school's B quad on the Sunday, while Great Marlow have combined their National Schools Ch G2x with what we can assume is their top two J16 athletes who were 6th in the J16 G8+. City of Oxford didn't race a four at NSR, but finished 12th in championship eights. Similarly, King's Canterbury raced a pair at NSR rather than a four, where they were only four seconds off qualifying for the A/B semis. The Scottish composite crew are potentially another dark horse, with their athletes producing some promising results at the recent Scottish Championships and not appearing to have raced down at NSR. Glasgow have a strong history of results behind them.
The field is completed by the two US crews who as always are difficult to gauge for speed. St Paul's School have been getting accustomed to rowing over here at Reading Amateur Regatta, winning their event on Saturday and being beaten by eventual winners UCD by only 1/3 of a length on Sunday. Such close racing on the 1500m course at Reading will no doubt have been excellent preparation to race at Henley. The crew from the Merion Mercy Academy don't seem to have raced here yet, but they won the girls lightweight four at the Stotesbury Cup regatta before going on to win the same event at US Youth Nationals. While junior lightweight rowing isn't prevalent in the UK, these excellent results mean they are very much a crew to keep an eye on.