Schools’ Head 2016 – Girls Ch8+

With the increasing number of girls rowing and competing, this year’s School’s Head see’s the first time the top eights event has been split into Champs Girls Eight, and 1st Girls Eight. The champs event is meant for more established rowing systems, whilst 1st eight can be for smaller clubs or schools. This preview features a few international crews I have done my best to research, but unfortunately I have not been able to find anything on the Italian Crew Olona 1894 so they will not be included.

 

Headington School

Headington School have consistently year on year produced the fastest girl’s eights, winning gold at National Schools Regatta every year since 2011 (and probably further back, I just couldn’t access these results!). They are truly the powerhouse of womens junior rowing, and not only produce exceptional crew sweep boats, but also several individuals who go onto to represent GB in both sweep and sculling. Lydia Currie is in this crew and raced in the Four at the Coupe de la Jeunesse, winning a bronze and a silver medal. At the start of this season Headington weren’t experiencing their usual success, posting a slower time than LEH at Head of the Charles, and coming second to Henley RC at Wallingford Regatta. However they must have stepped on the training over winter, as they produced an outstanding result at Women’s Head of the River, finishing 9th overall. It is very rare a Junior crew appears in the top 10 in such a prestigious race with the top adult clubs competing, and it shows they clearly can navigate the difficult tideway course effectively. They were unlucky to miss out on the Junior pennant by a mere 0.2 seconds to the Italian Junior National team eight, which included medalists from last years Junior world championships, and this small margin just emphasizes the international standard of this eight.

 

Sir W Borlase GS

A Borlase eight came 2nd to Headington in the Champs 8 final at national schools last year, so they definitely have the potential for a top three finish on Thursday. Unfortunately they’ve lost a few of their top athletes from last summer, no less than three that had a coupe vest by the end of their junior years, and Borlase has also suffered the blow of their Head Coach Robin Dowell moving on to take over as Head GB Junior coach instead. Despite this, I think Borlase will produce a competitive eight to take on the likes of Headington and Henley. They can deal with tideway conditions well, as they came 2nd in the coxed four at Fours Head of the River last November, however their WeHORR performance wasn’t as strong, finishing 9th in Junior eights. They also raced in both divisions at Reading, but with a significant difference in time it looks like they were two different combinations. I think they will improve on their WeHORR performance, but it is worth noting they have also entered a Girls Four, and if this is their top boat with the same combination as Fours Head, obviously this eight will be weaker.

 

Merion Mercy Academy USA

It’s hard to know much about these international crews, but I’ve done my best to research them and get an idea of this crew’s standard. A Merion Mercy crew raced Youth Eights at Head of the Charles, coming in 26th, one place above Headington and three behind LEH. This shows it is a  high enough standard to be mixing with the top of the British competitors, however Headington seem to have come on since this race, and I’m not sure they’ll be beaten again. Merion Mercy also had many girls take part in the Centre City Slam indoor rowing competition, with their top girl coming 5th with a 7.24.9 2k. Four more girls finished with good times sub 7.45, showing some strength in the boat necessary for such a long head race. They came 3rd in Schools Head last year, behind Borlase and Headington, so they’ll be looking to do better than that, and already have experience of the course. British schools may not like it, but I think this crew could do very well if they’ve maintained their training since Head of the Charles and race well on Thursday.

 

Henley RC

Henley Rowing Club represent the huge breakthrough in participation and talent in junior womens rowing at the moment, with exceptional squads all the way from j14-18, this club has seemed like an unstoppable force over the last few years. They excel in their technically ability, allowing them to easily switch from small to large boats, and produce the same power and distance per stroke. This is shown by successes in every boat class, most notably first in the double at pairs head, first in both the four and quad at fours head, and then first in the eight at Wallingford, and more recently Hampton Heads. They also have a large presence in the GB trialling system, with 6 girls attending Feb Water Trials, and Lottie Orr finishing 3rd overall in the J18 single scull despite still being a J16! This means they probably have the best chance out of everyone in beating Headington on Thursday, but at Womens Head they were 11 seconds behind them, with an overall placing of 13th, an incredible achievement, but the question is if they can make up that time in the next two weeks. I think it’ll be difficult, but if any club could make such a jump in improvement it would be Henley RC. It should definitely be closer that WeHORR, and even if they don’t make it this rivalry is looking like it will last all the way to national schools final in may.

 

Lady E Holles

Lady Eleanor Holles are historically another strong champs eight school. After a slightly disappointing regatta season last summer, finishing just outside the medals at national schools, they had a great start to the season as the fastest British girls eight at Head of the Charles regatta. They came 23rd in Youth Eights, a few places ahead of Headington’s top eight. They also finished third in the coxed four at Fours Head of the River. However sadly their most recent performance over the tideway course at WeHORR left them 50 seconds off Headington in 7th place, and also 14 seconds behind Marlow and Nottingham. They will be looking to improve this performance and break into the top five, but I’m not sure this crew is strong enough for a top three finish.

Nottingham RC

Nottingham RC have focused mainly on sculling for the last few years, providing 50% of the top GB quad who got a silver medal at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Rio. They seem to have switched two oars for one, and quite quickly moved into a competitive sweep combination, when several of these girls had never picked up a sweep oar until this season. I’m interested to see how this crew develops over the year, as they improve their technique they should see some large jumps in speed, more so than crews who have been sweeping much longer. They have been doing very well though, with a 2nd place at Hampton Head behind Henley, and 6th fastest junior crew at WeHORR, a tiny 0.2 seconds behind Marlow. I think if they can hold their technique in the rough tideway conditions, they’ll surprise everyone with a very good result for a club generally associated with sculling success.

Marlow RC

Marlow are another club most known for their sculling, with a very successful quad reaching the final of the Diamond Jubliee cup at Henley Royal Regatta last summer. This quad included Molly Harding, an extremely talented sculler who was in the Worlds Quad last year that won silver in Rio. She is too old to trial this year, but assuming she is in this crew they must be one to watch. The other girls are probably from the very impressive Marlow J16 8+ that won silver at National Schools last summer. This crew has been continuing its success into the higher age category, with a 3rd Place at Hampton Head 2 seconds behind Nottingham (previewed above), but they got the better of them at WeHORR, finishing 0.2 seconds ahead in 5th. I think these two crews will be incredibly close during this race, and a rivalry has probably already been built up by the close results so far, made worse by the fact they’re starting right next to each other. Marlow will try to gain on Nottingham, Nottingham will try to push away, but at the end I think this will be won by the tiniest of margins.

Other Crews to watch out for are Kings School Chester, who competeted at WeHoRR, Lea RC who came 4th at Hampton Head, and Portora BC, who were semi-finalists at Henley Women’s Regatta last year, knocking out St Georges, who got a Bronze at Nat Schools.

Prediction:

1st- Headington School

2nd- Henley RC

3rd- Merion Mercy USA or Marlow RC

 

Good Luck to All Crews Racing!

 

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