Tough task for Sydney Women’s Crew as Boat Race looms this Sunday

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Coach Debbie Fox is under no illusion of what lies ahead for the Sydney University women’s eight crew if they are to beat arch rivals Melbourne University on Sydney Harbour on Sunday.

The 50 second winning margin that occured 12 months ago on the Yarra River, is a stark reminder of the gulf in the difference between the two boats.

”We’ve been totally dusted-up over the last four years for the Bella Guerin Trophy,” Fox says, not mixing her words. “It was also a total humiliation on the Yarra River a year ago.”

To add insult to injury, Melbourne also got the better of Sydney at the recent Australian University Games.

In a bold bid to make up for lost time, Fox and assistant coach Esther Verburg, have heavily re-tweaked the Sydney boat, almost top to bottom. “Cox, Ellen Laughton is new, so too is the stroke, Yasmin Howes,” says Fox. “Jessica Richardson in the five seat is another newcomer.” Richardson, a graduate of the University of Newcastle, switched to Sydney, where she is completing a Masters of International Public Health.

“Nicole Stride in the four seat, has a long history of rowers in her family, while Olivia Ashby is another new face in the crew,” Fox said. “Emma Thomas, who will occupy the two seat behind Rebecca Humphris in the bow who is also the crew captain, she was a reserve for the crew only a year ago.”

While it is only Humphris’ second season in the Sydney University boat, Fox and Verburg had little hesitation in naming her the crew captain. “We found Rebecca to be a wise young woman and is very good at bringing the crew together,” adds Fox.

In a bid to break the Melbourne University hoodoo, Fox and Verburg began preparing for this year’s race, a 4.4km endurance run down the harbour from Woolwich to the Pyrmont Bridge on Darling Harbour, much earlier. “We assembled the crew back in August, and have averaged between two and three training sessions a week, on top of small boat and off water sessions,  which is a lot to ask of the girls,” Fox said.

“The lane draw for Sunday’s race is no big deal, the key for us is to get a good start,” says Fox. Australian Boat race convenor, Chris Noel, believes the new faces in the Sydney University boat adds “starch” to the overall make-up of the crew. “Leah Saunders in the six seat and Nicole Stride in the four seat, are two important new additions, with Leah having represented Australia at both under 21 level in 2013 and  stepped up to the under 23s at this year’s world championships,” says Noel. “Leah Saunders also adds an element of excellence which has assisted the crew in raising its standard of preparation.”

A change in training venue, from the Glebe boatshed to alongside the men’s eight at Tarban Creek, has also helped better prepare the Sydney University eight.

“Since our Lane Cove boatshed was destroyed by fire in 2006, all our women’s rowing has been based out of the Glebe boatshed,” Noel said. “The short runs there make it difficult to prepare properly for an endurance race like the Australian Boat Race.

The switch in training venue to Tarban Creek, I believe, has enabled the crew to do more distance training and we are hoping it will make the team significantly stronger,” he said.

The Melbourne University eight are without two key members of their past wins in the vastly experienced duo, Phoebe Stanley and Kim Crow. “Kim is coming off competing at the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston as part of an international women’s eight and has opted to take a well-deserved break after a long overseas campaign,” Noel said.

In addition, India McKenzie, named in the three seat, along with bow Alice Macnamara, a senior Australian lightweight representative, don’t arrive back from the famed Boston regatta until Saturday, giving them little time to overcome the rigours of the trip before entering the race on Sunday morning.