St Margaret’s in seventh heaven
You can see St Margaret's coming from a long way down a two-kilometre rowing course in their distinctive, vertical red and white stripes. They stand out like, well, winners.
And win they did - the Christchurch school seizing their seventh national championship title in the pinnacle event for girls at the Aon Maadi Cup regatta at Lake Karapiro, from North Island powerhouses Waikato Diocesan and St Peter's Cambridge.
Only Rangi Ruru has won the Levin Jubilee Cup more often, with 15, but last year's runners-up (to St Peter's) could finish only sixth this time.
St Margaret's were one of the favourites, not just because of their Levin Jubilee Cup pedigree, but after their victory over Rangi Ruru at the South Island Championships early last month. They were beaten in their heat at the Maadi regatta by Waikato Diocesan, but knew they would cruise into this final.
Those two crews, and St Peter's, battled mightily down the Karapiro course late Saturday afternoon, and the red-and-whites held out Waikato Dio, the North Island champions, by just over a second. Later the St Margaret's coach, Ian Smallman, indicated the crew had come back from some adversity to hit their stride in the under-18s.
‘I’m just really proud of how well they rowed," he said. "There were a few girls in today’s boat who had an off season last year with various setbacks, and getting them all back into their best condition for today’s final has being incredibly satisfying.’’
The winning crew were Rosa Foster, Lucy Botting, Charlotte Darry, Anna Wilson, Kate Harris, Gaby McKellar, Emma Roberts, Sophie Lightbourne and Claudia Bethell.
The St Margaret's win made a double for the South Island, with Christchurch Boys' High School winning the Maadi Cup for boys under-18 eights from another Canterbury school Christ's College.
The Levin Jubilee Cup win was not a one-off for St Margaret's either. The school also won the under-17 fours and the under-16 eights, suggesting a strong squad coming through.
Girls' rowing's second glamour event - run as the grand final on the first day of Maadi finals - is the Dawn Cup for the under-18 four. Waikato Diocesan won this one, almost five seconds ahead of Christchurch Girls and Rangi Ruru, with St Margaret's not in the field.
In the under-18 single sculls, for the best solo rower, Phoebe Trolove of Craighead Diocesan School in Canterbury won gold from Eva Hofmans of Bayfield High School in Dunedin, and Rebecca Leigh from St Peter's School, Cambridge.
Leigh and team-mate Teri Wyatt took gold in the senior double sculls.
For St Peter's girls, winners of last year's Levin Jubilee Cup, this Maadi regatta was another strong medal haul with a tally of two golds, two silvers and two bronze - but shaded a little by the brilliant podium performance at Maadi last year when St Peter's girls took four golds, fours silvers and a bronze.
In the under-17 eight, Baradene of Auckland* won its first gold medal for an eight, holding off repeated surges from Christchurch Girls and Rangi Ruru to post a time of 6.40.94, just 1.3 seconds slower than the Rowing NZ listed record for this race, which measures back to 2003. Waikato Diocesan holds that record for its win in 2011.
The under-17 and under-18 eight races are held at different times of the day (mid morning and late afternoon) and in different water and wind conditions, but Baradene's winning time in theory could have placed its crew third in the Levin Jubilee.
Rangi Ruru had success at the under-15 level, taking both the eight and the four.
Possibly the most heart-wrenching ending to a race came in the under-16 double, where Macleans College's Caitlin Harley and Chelsea Cox were vying probably for a silver medal, about 30 metres from home, when an oar 'caught a crab' - or went out of synch into the water - and stopped their boat almost dead.
As the crowd watched Dunstan College's Mackenzie Ealson and Paige Furrie take their final strokes to win gold, a gasp turned all eyes towards Macleans, suddenly with no motion and an oar precariously near vertical.
As the Macleans girls tried to right things, their battle with Mackenzie Tuffin and Helena Rivers-Milliken of Chilton St James School of Canterbury for silver was over by default, and an Iona College double of Ari Wright and Libby Christie went through for a gifted bronze medal. All other boats passed them, the line beeping finishers four to seven.
When Macleans finally managed to use their remaining front oars to get some slow forward momentum, the big crowd outside the Don Rowlands Centre applauded long and hard. They finished. Eighth. Almost a minute behind the winners.
*The writer's daughter rowed for Baradene.
See Also: A Maadi Cup victory over bigotry
Conrad Blind's portfolio of Maadi 2019 photos is here