Due to being very busy coaching in Taranaki with Clifton Rowing Club over the summer, I struggled to regularly commit to these Oarsome News columns, but a small positive out of Covid-19 is the chance to reflect back on the 2019-20 season and highlight performances.

I've decided to start with Whanganui Collegiate, as the school was heading for one of its most successful seasons on record - culminating in crews making their way to 23 finals at the Aon North Island Secondary Schools Rowing Championships on Lake Karapiro, March 13-15.

All our Whanganui secondary schools competed among 99 total schools, for a turnout of 1854 rowers and coxswains.

Of course, this pinnacle regatta, along with the South Island equivalent in Twizel that same weekend, proved to be the final event on the NZ Rowing Calendar and was the de-fault Maadi Cup - with Maadi cancelled on March 16 due to Covid-19 restrictions for the first time since its inception following World War II in 1947.

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At Karapiro, Collegiate crews made 16 A Finals, two B Finals and five C Finals, culminating in one gold, four silver and four bronze medals.

As already noted, the Whanganui's schools only gold medal was won in convincing fashion by the well established Leo Hanna and Blake Hogan, who had been 2018 Maadi Under 16 double scull champions.

In the A Final, they repeated their semifinal finishing time, winning in 6m 49.39s, which was five seconds clear of Takapuna Grammar School's Evan Williams and Jacob Davey, who are both coached by highly respected and very recently deceased former Olympic medalist Eric Verdonk.

St Peters School were another five seconds back in third.

Interestingly, Leo and Blake were about nine seconds faster than the South Island title winners, Scott Shackleton and Henry Woelders of Christchurch Boys High School.

With Twizel considered approximately 10 seconds slower in the same conditions as Karapiro, it was a real prospect that a Maadi final involving those two crews would have been a thriller.

The first medal of NISS finals day came from the Girls Under 17 coxed four of Holly Lennox, Alyana du Fresne, Jaime Maybery, Margy Hazelhurst and cox Bella Stevenson-Watt.

Collegiate Girls Under 18 coxed quadruple out on Lake Karapiro.
Collegiate Girls Under 18 coxed quadruple out on Lake Karapiro.

They raced a great, gutsy race, finishing just 1.9s off Waikato Diocesan's gold medalists and two seconds ahead of Hamilton's Sacred Heart College with bronze.

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These four Collegiate rowers have been informed they are in the North Island Under 18 Trial 'Long List', which may still have a potential trial for the traditional North vs South Island regatta later on, while the selectors are keeping an eye on them towards the 2021 season.

Although the coxswains are not named, I've no doubt that Bella would be on the list, with such great results over the last two seasons, and am confident she is on the radar.

At Karapiro, Alyana and Holly went on to win a bronze medal in the new Exhibition Girls Under 17 coxless pair event - sure to feature in years to come and a great experience for the Under 18 equivalent in 2021.

Collegiate's Girls Under 17 Exhibition coxless pair of Alyana du Fresne, left, and Holly Lennox with their NISS bronze medals.
Collegiate's Girls Under 17 Exhibition coxless pair of Alyana du Fresne, left, and Holly Lennox with their NISS bronze medals.

Jaime and Margy raced up a grade to win a bronze medal in the Girls Under 18 quadruple scull with the capable and experienced Charlotte McKinlay and Phoebe Collier, who have both recently been named in the 2020 NZ Junior Trial Long List and have big futures ahead.

Rounding out the senior results for Collegiate was Blake's bronze in the Boys Under 18 single scull, with a photo finish for silver between himself and Finn Hamill of St Johns Hamilton.

They were just two seconds between the gold medalist, who was Eric Verdonk's sculler Evan Williams of Takapuna, while Leo came in fourth place.

Collegiate rowers achieved so much that I will cover their juniors and novices next week, but congratulations to Senior head coach Tyler Scott and his father, the Master in Charge Grant (Gus) Scott for their huge roles in these results.