Crews buzzing after two golds

Gold medal-winners Jordon Gasson, arms raised, and Campbell Stevens savour the moment at the finish of the under-18 ...

Gold medal-winners Jordon Gasson, arms raised, and Campbell Stevens savour the moment at the finish of the under-18 lightweight double sculls on Lake Karapiro.

Marlborough's college rowers came away from the Maadi Cup regatta with two gold medals, a swag of memories and plenty of invaluable experience.

Although not able to match the medal hauls of some of their better-resourced opponents, Marlborough Boys' and Marlborough Girls' Colleges punched well above their weight at the national secondary schools championships. MBC crews featured in five A finals, one C final and three D finals at Lake Karapiro while MGC rowers reached five A finals, six B finals, one C and one D.

Each college bagged a gold medal on the final day of the regatta. MBC's under-18 lightweight double of Campbell Stevens and Jordon Gasson claimed that title in style, breaking the course record by four seconds, while MGC's under-16 coxed quadruple sculls crew of Stella Blake, Sophie Robinson, Morgan Gurr, Kate Rawcliffe and coxswain Nicky Murray won gold by a canvas in a thrilling medal decider.

Blake and Robinson were still buzzing on Saturday night. "We took a lot of energy into the race," said Robinson. "We got in front around the 1000 metre mark and our coxswain Nicky just kept telling us to 'push harder, don't let those girls take our medal away from us'.

"Our supporters were really happy, they were so encouraging as we came along the last 250m. It's my best moment in rowing so far."

Blake admitted it had been a long week, but the effort was worth it. "I didn't know we had won until we stopped at the finish and Sophie said we had won. There was just one second in it so it was so close.

"Before the race all our times had been up there . . . we knew it was going to be tough but we thought we were in with a chance. I didn't really expect a gold medal," she added.

The quad's victory came as no surprise to MGC head coach Mark James. "The girls took it to the opposition by being aggressive from the start. The other crews started really fast and our girls had to be right on their game to stay with the leaders. [Second-placed] Diocesan School for Girls made a move about halfway but our girls did too and theirs was longer and stronger. Then we had the legs to hold them off."

Blake and Robinson finished eighth in the under-16 double final later in the day, the exertions from the earlier race taking its toll, although James labelled theirs a "very brave effort". He was also impressed with the efforts of Gurr and Rawcliffe, who won the under-18 lightweight B final in emphatic style.

James also mentioned another top performance. When Ruby McManaway fell ill and was unable to race on the final day, she was replaced by 16 year-old Charlotte McKee at late notice in the under-18 coxed quad, alongside Ahlia Hicks, Samantha Lawrence, Meg Hocquard and cox Antonia Paulus. "They battled and battled to get second in their B final," said James. "That's a top 10 finish in New Zealand and shows the willingness of the team to help each other."

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Overall James was satisfied with the progress made. "Coming from where we were with the review of the programme and the changes we have made this year, it's a very positive result. Achieving five A finals and six B finals meant that our whole squad was performing pretty damn well. That we couldn't convert that into medals, except one, was a real shame. But it just shows the standard of the opposition. Some of the girls now understand how difficult it is to medal at Maadi Cup.

"Hopefully there will be a whole lot of excited girls, disappointed that they didn't get a medal but excited enough to come back and have another season and build on what they've already done."

The MBC contingent qualified for the two biggest boys finals at the regatta, the under-18 coxed four, for the Springbok Shield, and the under-18 eight, contesting the Maadi Cup. Despite missing a medal, MBC head coach Bill Campbell was happy with the efforts of his charges, labeling it a "very successful" campaign.

On Friday the Springbok Shield four of Gasson, Angus McFarlane, Isaiah Miller, Robson Davies and coxswain Alex Hill turned in a bold effort, finishing fourth, just 0.10sec off a medal position and 4sec behind the winning crew, St Paul's Collegiate.

"It was a pretty big effort really, considering one of our boys is a lightweight, the stroke is 65kg . . . they are up against some big, strong units. They were 4sec off the first boat, which rowed 6:30 into a headwind. That's a pretty good time."

On Saturday the MBC eight, comprising Stevens, Davies, Greg Hyson, Miller, Gasson, McFarlane, Cameron Donald, Leith Gilmore and Hill came fifth in the race for the Maadi Cup, a meritorious performance amid a high-class field, especially given that all the crew were still under-17.

Campbell was pleased with the eight's race, feeling they did as well as they could have considering the opposition, then praised the gold medal-winning perfomance by Gasson and Stevens that preceded it.

"The boys in the lightweight double showed their class by winning it without a lot of training in that boat. They really gutsed that one out, and then went out in the Maadi eight later on. They drained the tank. They are still capable of competing in that event again next year."

Campbell could only look on with envy at the resources, both in athletes and equipment, that his rival schools could call on. The Christ's College crews turned out in a hugely-expensive empacher boat while the Maadi Cup-winning Hamilton Boys' High School contingent were able to utilise a top-of-the-line hudson. "For schoolboys to be racing in them, it's colossal really."

Campbell was happy with his decision to split his focus between the under-18 and under-17 events. "We left a couple of races out in the under-17 age group we could have aimed at, but we did well enough in the South Islands to suggest we could have a go at the big time. I feel our thinking was right."

He said the MBC under-15 brigade had worked hard and gained a lot over the six days. "The parents and the boys would have learned a lot by being here. They have experienced it and maybe realise now how hard it is to win at this level."

 - The Marlborough Express

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