With a nine year streak at National Schools in this event, it was beginning to become an assumption that Headington would win the junior girls’ title. Whilst the Oxford school faced tough competition from Henley last season, they retained their winning streak, but this time last year I don’t think anyone would’ve dared anticipate that they’d no longer be the favourites going into the 2018 regatta. Henley took the junior title at WEHORR and made their statement over who the top dogs were to be this year, before following through to take the SHORR pennant. No doubt the pressure is on this year’s crew to give Ryan Demaine that crucial tenth victory, but after their placings throughout the head season and a less convincing performance to finish behind LEH at Wallingford- albeit with junior world champion Holly Dunford subbing into the LEH crew- as well as the rumoured loss of top Coupe athlete Franny Curtis to injury, they're undeniably on a backfoot as they line up to face Henley this weekend.
That leaves of course, Henley RC, as favourites in this event. Going into NSR this year, they hold pennants in both junior HOR4s categories as well as the SHORR and WEHORR pennants- not to mention wins in the J18 and J17 quads at the Junior Sculling Head. Taking after top boys’ performers St. Paul’s School, they’ve had pretty much a clean sweep bar the JW2- pennant at Pairs Head, putting them in what we’d assume is a fairly unshakeable position ahead of NSR. With young coach Leon Redman guiding the girls this season, he's really made a name for himself in the junior coaching scene. Whilst they didn’t race at Wallingford as they lost four athletes for the Munich International Regatta team, it would be a big upset if they don’t cross the line first next weekend. It seems that after so many years, Headington will just fall short of that jackpot tenth victory.
Other contenders for the final medal spot are of course Lady Eleanor Holles, with their international experience in the boat from the likes of Celia Matthews of the Junior World pair last year. As mentioned above, they lost Celia to Munich but had the next best thing in the shape of standout junior Holly Dunford as a substitute, helping them take the W.Challenge.8+ category at Wallingford by a convincing margin over some senior crews.
Nottinghamshire County finished only four seconds behind HSOBC at Wallingford Regatta so perhaps could be up there despite sitting a little off the pace at SHORR, considering some of these athletes may be of the Becket School crew that took an unexpected bronze in this category last year. Marlow are another crew that shouldn’t be totally discounted, with Charlotte Fennel of the JW4- at World last year giving them her experience. Latymer Upper's campaign in the eight has been off to a solid start also, and crossing the line only two seconds behind Headington at Wallingford Regatta, might indicate they have really stepped on as we reach regatta season.
Although it looks quite likely we will see a Henley- HSOBC one-two, followed then by LEH, putting cliché’s aside, anything could happen, and it will truly come down to who is quickest on the day.