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Junior rowers head north for nationals

TO close out the national competitions for the season, Stratford Boat Club’s junior squad competed at the British Rowing Junior National Championships, reports Chris Best.

This year's edition proved more of an adventure than most with the selected venue being in Strathclyde, Scotland. Unde-terred, Stratford fielded 17 crews across the J14 to J18 age range into the event on Strathclyde Loch.

First to go from Stratford's J14 squad was the coxed quadruple scull of Bryony Francis, Maeve Dunn, Martha Baines, Sophie Franklin and Isla Dunn (coxswain). A solid time trial performance secured the crew a place in the semi-final where a gutsy row with Calpe Rowing Club of Gibraltar earned them a place in the B Final where they led from the front and wowed the crowd with a dominant and confident row to take the win and seventh overall.

Stratford’s J16 squad with coaches Eric Appleton (left) and Mark Holden (right).
Stratford’s J16 squad with coaches Eric Appleton (left) and Mark Holden (right).

On the second day it was the turn of the J14 single scull event with Maeve Dunn and Martha Cooke representing Stratford Boat Club. In a howling headwind both athletes demonstrated composure in both time trials and their finals to end the day in 20th and 27th places respectively in a field of more than 40 competitors, a great result with quality opposition in their wake.

Day three saw the WJ14 double scull event and another day of challenging conditions with a heavy tailwind demand-ing a change in technique to take full advantage.

Stratford fielded three crews with the combinations of Martha Baines/Sophie Franklin, Millie Smith/-Isla Dunn and Poppy Warren/Martha Cooke. The Baines/ Franklin combination smashed the time trial to secure a spot in the A final with Warren/Cooke and Smith/Dunn well on the pace in D and E finals respectively. A tough lane draw in the A final meant Baines and Franklin were unable to better their time trial result ending the day a superb sixth place nationally. Warren and Cooke delivered again to take third place in their final whilst Smith and Dunn showed their grit and quality taking the race to the Tideway clubs in the E final, winning by just 1.5 seconds over the 1000m course.

Stratford’s J15 squad also headed north of the border to the British Rowing Junior Championships held at Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell – the only 200m multi-lane course in Scotland, built for the 1986 Commonwealth Games and host to the Scottish Rowing Championships each year and more recently the 2018 European Rowing Championships.

Representing the Junior 15 girls on day one were Alexandra Francis and Poppy Baines in the single sculls event. Despite the long delay at the start, both girls showed amazing determination and skill in their time trial, overcoming tough conditions to earn spots in the C and D finals. Francis finished second in hers while Baines came sixth.

Day two saw Baines and Francis teamed up for the Junior Women’s double sculls event. They faced the Scottish weather with courage and resilience and made it to the D final where they had a thrilling race and finished just behind Queen Elizabeth High School.

Also competing in this event were Lily Warren and Sophie Evans who had a fantastic row and gave their best effort but unfortunately missed out on the finals.

The third day saw Seth Vondrak make his debut in the single sculls event. He had a superb start and middle piece but missed out on the finals despite an excellent performance.

Gusty conditions welcomed the W16 2x to their time trial on Friday morning. The double of V Vondrak and Aimee Appleton finished 15th, securing a third place spot in C final, followed by Lucy Sartain and Ez Elfwood who placed 25th and secured a D final race. In worsening conditions, Sartain and Elfwood had a fast start and kept the pace throughout the race, pulling ahead of three other boats, earning them fourth place. They were followed by Vondrak and Appleton in the C final who gained momentum through the race and overtook close rivals from Lea RC to finish second, only 1.5 seconds off the winner over the 2000m course.

Windy conditions prevailed again for Sunday’s racing which began with the W16 4x time trial who finished tenth in a field of 17 very competitive boats, earning them fourth in the B final after a fabulous race. The semi-finals were cancelled due to the weather, so they proceeded straight to the finals.

Off to a strong start, they held the line with the other boats. but with tricky conditions one of the crew caught a crab which stopped the boat and allowed the other boats to pull ahead. Showing real grit the girls quickly got back up to race pace and with the second fastest final 1000m, put their months of hard training to work to catch the pack, pulling ahead of local rivals Stourport to finish fifth in the last few meters of the race.

Stratford’s WJ coxed quad are ready to go
Stratford’s WJ coxed quad are ready to go

Four members of the J18 squad – Will Beattie, Tomi Wilcock, Charles Happel and Toby Sartain also travelled to Glasgow to compete in the annual British Rowing Junior Championships at Strathclyde Country Park. Friday saw them in the OJ18 coxless quads event. After two rounds they made it to the B Final in which they pushed hard and sculled well in tough conditions to finish fourth, missing out on third placed by less than a second.

Saturday then saw Beattie and Wilcock compete in the OJ18 doubles, winning through to the D Final where they edged out a crew from Grosvenor Rowing Club to claim a well-earned second place to conclude both a successful and enjoyable weekend for the squad.

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