The dreaded final week of training is upon crews racing at School's Head next week, and Reading University Head's 4.6km course provides an excellent last race to test those race tactics and possibly see how crews will stack up on the Tideway.
In the build-up before school’s head Shiplake have certainly not been hiding their speed and have been racing at almost every opportunity available. Currently being billed as a real frontrunner for SHORR, they will likely be more focussed on nailing down their race plan than concerning themselves about the other crews racing.
Their biggest competition will come in the form of Radley. Their name hasn’t been thrown about a lot in the past few weeks, but it would be foolish to count them out after the past 2 years has seen them clawing for that top spot time and time again. Especially after last year’s mishaps at SHORR knocking them off the radar until NSR, the boys will throw in the kitchen sink this year. Radley should be comfortable that none of the other crews racing will catch them as it’s only themselves and Shiplake representing the championship scene.
The rest of the crews in this category are all typical 1st 8 schools, with Monmouth leading the charge. Rumours are putting the fight for the 1st 8’s pennant at SHORR between Norwich and Monmouth, and this is a great opportunity for Monmouth to prove that they’re right to be considered. While Radley and Shiplake have entered their top crews into open 8’s, Monmouth will face some competition from Shiplake’s 2nd 8 if they want to win J18 eights. Bedford Modern, Monkton Combe, Pangbourne and Oratory School make up the rest of the field, all roughly evenly matched in terms of speed, and the results from Reading will help our SHORR previews greatly. Pangbourne and Monkton have both also entered second eights and will likely be seeing how they match up against the university and club crews entered.
Only the week before Schools Head we are already seeing one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season play out as both Windsor Boys and Leander Club are racing. Leander have entered 3 quads, 2 racing under Star and Arrow. This race represents a lot this close to school’s head. While the Tideway stretch of Thames differs vastly from the Reading stretch, there is potentially a huge psychological advantage to going into racing next week knowing who the faster crew is.
Henley Rowing Club have entered 3 crews into the event in their final preparations for SHORR with each being of a very high standard. Their top crew will be right up at the top amongst Westminster and Leander, especially after their unexpectedly strong performance at Wallingford Head. It’s no secret that Henley RC is more renowned for its women’s crews, and this has possibly hidden some real speed coming from the junior men. With last year’s very successful J16 quad coming up after wins at Wallingford Regatta and JIRR, on top of the club sending 2 athletes to Coupe de la Jeunesse, Henley have the athletes needed to contest with the sculling giants of late.
Last up from the quads is Teddies. This year they have decided not to race in an 8 likely due to a lack of squad depth and have opted to place their top boys in a four. The quad is their second boat and will be solely representing the school since Reading Head doesn’t allow fours. I imagine that this crew will be looking to compete alongside Henley’s 2nd or 3rd quad, with their goal for the year likely being Fawley qualification. Teddies have always struggled with squad depth, last year only putting out a top 8, but that doesn’t mean that the quality of their athletes or training is any less than the other crews here. Teddies won’t be breaking any records, but they’ll be unexpectedly quick for a second boat.
On the eights side, girls from the coxless quads at Sir William Perkins are doubling up for the eight to give us a tight race, albeit in a small field. The girls’ coach, Lewis Moran, has put together a strong squad who intend to compete with a high standards of rowing here at Reading to put their name out into the circuit. Also, being against 2 crews that they have been competing regularly prior in their careers, SWP will be looking to better their performances. Additionally, renowned Pangbourne College will also be racing their 1st women's 8, chasing down SWB closely. Although they haven't raced at Heads like Quintin Head or Henley 4’s and 8’s, Pangbourne train on the River Thames - where this head is being held. The knowledge of almost ‘home water’ may give their cox an advantage over the likes of SWP and SWB and could see this crew sneak into the lead. Nevertheless, all crews find strength in the fitness and resilience of their girls to lay all that they have on the 4.6km course.
In the coxless quads this year, there are 8 entries consisting of Sir William Perkins, Marlow RC (x2), Shiplake, Bedford Modern, Queen Anne’s (x2) and St Edwards. Stroke of the Shiplake crew (Olivia Morgan) also trialled recently at Boston - showing the crew’s depth and strength coming into the race. She sat in the strokeseat in last year's Junior Worlds quad, so is no doubt someone you'd like to have setting up the rhythm. Likewise Sir William Perkin’s stroke (Anabelle Taylor - who also will be racing in the eight) and Marlow’s Eve Lombardo, also attended GB Junior trials this year - providing for competitive and high-standard racing. Looking forward into the season, all coaches will be looking closely into the field to see if the strong performances from the 2018 head season could be replicated or bettered this time. Nevertheless, as crews from Bedford Modern and Queen Anne’s haven’t competed at events like Quintin Head and Henley 4’s + 8’s they could pose an unknown threat to the others and are not to be discounted. Finally, with no entries from Headington and Henley (who have been recently dominating the WJ18 circuit) each and every crew have a shot at the win, equally.