The 2018/9 season has caught up with us already and things are ready to get under way in earnest at this weekend's Pairs Head. Worried about steering? Catch our article here for our best tips for coxless boats on the tideway, from both steersman and coxes.
But at this early point in the year with nothing concrete to go on in terms of this season's squads, the question we want to see answered is who means business looking ahead. The racing format here, with championship and intermediate events, encourages fierce racing across the board.
Last year's event was won by St. Paul's, kicking off a tremendous winning streak no one can deny them of that went on to an eventual 'season finale' with all of their competing coaches and athletes coming home with a Junior Worlds gold medal.
But with a season like this behind them, and seven of last year's triple-winning eight headed to top universities both here and across the pond, there are significant doubts that they'll have a season even close to last year's. Ollie Parish and Tom Horncastle are the remainers and they have a decent cohort of J16s with GB France success coming to join them. With Tom a one year junior, it seems unlikely the two would race together so we should see Ollie compete with their next ranked trialist. Granted, Paul's have shown they can make the top of the sport. But they've got a lot to do to prove they can stay there.
For us this year, we're looking at Shiplake. They hold onto the likes of Dom Brown, with a Coupe gold medal in the coxless four and a convincing five-second victory in the JM8+ at Munich earlier this year, he's got a lot of valuable international experience under his belt to add to his NSR champ eights gold in the seven seat.
The big thing for Shiplake is their J16s. Stepping on from a bronze medal at School's Head, they really kept their heads screwed on and had a hugely successful summer. A win at National Schools was only the beginning; they went on to break the J16 GB 8+ record by nine seconds finishing in 6 minutes dead at Marlow, and qualify for the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. Could this be a group to mimic the SPS class of 2018 as we look ahead to the 2019/20 season? Only time will tell.
We of course can't forget to mention the watt farmers from the streets of Walton. Matt Heywood has a bronze NSR medal in championship pairs to his name and previous GB France experience. He's also a good lad, so we hope he'll challenge some of the big clubs this weekend.
Meanwhile, Norwich School dominate the entries in the Club section of this category, and with a 6th place finish from Udy and Hook in Championship Pairs at NSR last year, should be looking to make their mark in the final results too. Names from last years GB vs France match such as Matty Tremelling and Duncan Steel will be hoping to make a positive first impression if aiming to make their GB vest count increase again this year, alongside the rest of last years coxed four, however with unnamed entries, we wont know specific crews combinations until after the event.
The doubles category is on the small side this year, with some of the big club names from last year's sculling scene missing. Leander made up half of the top ten J18 1x at Wallingford Long Distance Sculls last weekend, led by Tim Eilers, and it would be a real surprise to see them not top this category. (Feel free to check out our Wallingford photos here). Lea have had strong sculling crews in the past and should be in the same ballpark, but potentially not close enough for a real challenge, with ASL in a similar position. Eton do tend to send their top athletes down the track in doubles rather than pairs at this event and despite a lacking in sculling experienced compared to some of their competitors, we'd expect from them to be pushing at the top end of this category.
As for the intermediate category, it's difficult to predict this early in the season. After a memorable bronze medal in J16 4+ for Emanuel School at NSR last season, it would be nice to see them step on. With the depth of squads we see these days, Eton and St Paul's will look to battle for the top spots, with perhaps Dulwich underdogs ready to prove themselves this year after losing top athlete Paddy Craig last year to the bulldogs over at Yale University.
J18 Girls' Pairs
The winners of this event last year, twins Catherine and Gemma King of Lady Eleanor Holles, went on to the huge achievement of qualifying in the women's pairs at Henley Royal Regatta. This year looks to be a battle between Kingston RC, Lea RC and Putney High School. Kingston had a fantastic season last year, with well deserved wins at NSR, JIRR, Henley Women's and in the 4- at GB France. Lea girls formed half of the successful GB France eight last season and competed with Kingston throughout last year, including being pipped into silver at JIRR by half a length. Putney won the coxed fours at Henley Women's and National Schools, as well as sending Lucy Miles to the Coupe de le Jeunesse in the 4-, where she won gold. It should be a really exciting battle for the top spot.
The club section of this category should show what kind of depth Putney have, with everything to play for. Walton and Emanuel have produced strong junior girls' crews in recent years whilst Barn Elms will look to use their tideway experience to their best advantage.
J18 Girls' Doubles
The girls' doubles category is a little larger than the pairs. Sir William Perkins send a fair few entries after a successful season last year. Their top sculler Emily Keen was selected for the Munich International Regatta where she took a strong win in the double, before going on to race at Coupe this summer in the double once more. No doubt her crew will be aiming to top this category.
Similarly, TSS have had strong performances throughout the last few seasons, sending Izzy Lack to Coupe last year in the quad as only a J16. They finished an agonising fourth at NSR in the quad last year, but have a real depth of squad to continue to work with, including further intentional experience in JW captain from HIR in the shape of Jessie Goodall.
Walton RC and LEH consistently produce strong crews and we'd expect no less here. Worth noting also are Shiplake. Whilst their girls' squad is considerably smaller than their junior men's, Olivia Morgan has another year left at school after finishing 5th in the quad at the World Rowing Junior Championships in Račice. With her wealth of experience, no doubt her crew will be fast.
It's great to see a long list of entries in the intermediate and club sections too. This opens up the opportunity for smaller clubs to shine, as well as the larger clubs to showcase their depth. It will be interesting to see who stands out here at this early point in the season.
J16 Boys' and Girls' Doubles
Wycliffe RC look to be favourites, after winning the silver medal at NSR last season in the J154x+. Racing over only 1k there, this big tideway event will be a big step for the J16 crews. St. Paul's may be ones to watch, with forces in their squad like Max Gillard, who pulled a 6:27 2k as a J15 last year, as well as wins at NSR in championship J15 eights. The rest of the championship doubles field looks hard to call, whilst the club section looks to be a battle of the big school names, including Dulwich, Paul's and Eton.
On the girls' side, the field looks wide open with many of the big names missing. TSS were the top placers from last year's WJ15.4x+ at National Schools, where they finished sixth. Izzy Lack set the standard last year, so it will be interesting to see if another young talent can fill her shoes. Kingston and Maidenhead finished 7th and 9th respectively, and at this early stage in their rowing careers, a lot can change over a couple of months so it will be interesting to see how the results pan out this weekend.