Until the final draw is released on Thursday, the conclusions which we can draw from the entries released today are very weak. Wallingford regatta has very few defined entry requirements for the different categories, and with many schools like Radley and Hampton entering schools into Challenge 8+, Op Schools A and Op Schools B.
We can be fairly certain that after Sunday we will have a solid idea of how the race for the 1st 8 title is going. The two forerunners, Bedford School and Great Marlow School are both entered into Op Schools A. Interestingly, Bedford School also have a quad entered into Challenge 4x-, although we suspect that this is a second boat. At BASHER, Bedford lost to St Paul’s second eight, whom they beat at School’s Head. This could give GMS an opportunity to strike, although it isn’t clear whether Bedford got slower (or didn’t give any faster), or Paul’s second eight found a lot of speed. With the loss of Bedford’s top performer, Connor Sheridan, it will be interesting to see if they are able to hold off GMS.
Another crew to watch is Latymer. Although none of their triallists managed to make it into the A/B semis at trials, it must be noted that they had two fairly neat pairs. Putting in a notable performance at School’s Head, we would recommend keeping an eye on their 8 in Op Schools A, to see how effectively they can stamp their authority on an event with big names entering their first 8s into Challenge 8+.
In the competition for Challenge 8+, St Paul’s will be looking to dominate. Agecroft and Thames represent the strongest club opposition, with the likes of Royal Chester absent from the event, opting to race in coxed fours. If St Paul’s were to overturn Thames, it would be a significant step on from School’s Head. At HORR, Thames beat Shrewsbury by nearly 1 minute, but Shrewsbury came 37 seconds behind St Paul’s.
A dark horse could come in the form of Radley. A lacklustre performance at School’s Head, largely due to a raced mired by misfortune, with a crash and medical problems for some of their crew, surely gives them the position of the underdog, but, with returners from last year’s Henley final such as Max Dunlap and Archie McChesney, they certainly know how to find speed in a short space of time.
Eton will be looking to reassert some authority on their home ground. With their second 8 placing so highly, and their first 8 being so far from St Paul’s at School’s Head, the cynics on the team are wondering whether Eton got it wrong, and some second 8 guys should’ve been first 8. However, more likely, Eton just have some stunning depth. But what good will depth be if they don't have the strength at the top end?
Let's not forget the sculling athletes who will be aiming for the Fawley at Henley Royal. The junior entries in Challenge 4x include 2016 Fawley winners Claire's Court School, as well as SHORR 2018 third and fourth place finishers from Star and Arrow (Leander) and Westminster respectively. The Op Schools 4x- has plenty of entries, but as we would expect in light of the absences for Munich, the junior boys' sculling on the whole this weekend is missing a lot of the top names from clubs such as Maidenhead and the Windsor Boys School. A real positive is the inclusion of entries from smaller clubs, such as excellent Tideway-based charity Fulham Reach. With the majority of boys' sweep feeding into the athletes, the 4+ is a much harder category to speculate on, but it seems likely that the second place finishers of Winchester College at SHORR might be challenged by crews from Eton, Shiplake and Tideway Scullers.
J16 and J15
Finishing as the sixth fasted quad overall at SHORR, Henley will almost definitely dominate the Op J16 4x category. After a successful weekend at BASHER, the matchup between St. Paul's School and Westminster School in the Op J16 8+ will really be a category to watch. Aberdeen topped the Op J15 + category at SHORR but haven't chosen to travel for Wallingford, so Westminster look to be the fastest crew entered this weekend, but St. Paul's and Shiplake will be hot on their heels. St. Paul's are the only BASHER competitor of these three crews, so this weekend will be a crucial indicator of what's to come at National Schools.
On the junior girls' side, Headington School have taken a similar path to St. Paul's in not sending their athletes to Munich, so we see plenty of entries from them in a variety of categories from W Challenge 1x to WJ18.8+. On the other hand, both the sculling and sweep squads at Munich feature two Henley RC athletes each, and not forgetting their coach who will be travelling with them too. For that reason, it is not a surprise that there are far fewer appearances from them on the draw.
The W Challenge 8+ category features entries from Headington, Lady Eleanor Holles and Latymer Upper; the latter of those three will likely have their work cut out in this competitive senior category. The W Schools 8+ sees 12 crews entered, with notable entries from Headington, Latymer, Lea and Nottinghamshire County. Whilst Latymer trailed the frontrunners of this year's Championship Eights category at School's Head, they were only three seconds behind Notts County, who finished second in School 1st 8+. To tie up this trio, Lea RC finished three seconds ahead of Notts County at SHORR; some tight racing looks to be on the cards, but it looks like- albeit in Henley's absence- HSOBC will be dominating this weekend. With no previous entries in this category, Putney and Surbiton High Schools look to have younger athletes entered here, and perhaps also worth noting the entry from Sir William Perkins, who are undoubtedly showing fantastic development this season.
At this time of year, the junior women's category to start watching is, of course, the junior girls' quads. As we leave the winter behind, whilst clubs will often continue to race the eight, this category only really takes priority until National Schools. After racing comes to a close on the Saturday, the quad is at the forefront of the minds of both athletes and coaches ahead of qualification for the Diamond Jubilee at Henley Royal Regatta, where there is no junior girls' sweep category.
Latymer's season last year perhaps didn't quite go as planned, as after a fantastic performance to take the bronze medal at NSR, their campaign at Henley Royal unfortunately didn't seem to reflect the true quality and potential of the crew. No doubt this will only fuel them this year, and it will be interesting to see how they fare now as other clubs switch back into the quad following a win for Latymer at SHORR. The W Schools 4x- should see competitive racing between them and Headington, whilst we would expect Sir William Perkins and Tideway Scullers to be up at the top end of the category.
With Junior Worlds single sculler Mattea Wuethrich entering the Challenge 1x, this certainly opens up the J18 category a little, which will be contested between Shiplake's top triallist this year, Olivia Morgan, and one-year juniors Aurelia Cowan of St. Paul's Girls' School and Megan Duthart, an ex Twickenham start athlete now racing for Thames.
J16 and J15
Based on the SHORR results, the J16 girls' categories look like they will feature Henley RC and Surbiton High at the top end of the eights and School's Head winners Kingston RC to take the 4+. In the absence of the Girls J15 8+ winners at SHORR from Latymer Upper, who must be paid respect for their domination of their category there, Henley RC will likely top this event, with challenges from local rivals Marlow RC.
J17, South West