No motley crew: Prep’s South Jersey-fueled boat is making waves

St. Joseph's Prep's Varsity 8 advanced to the quarterfinals of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England earlier this month.

Pat O’Connell of Marlton, Aidan Kilgannon of Collingswood, Connor Thompson of Mount Laurel, Quinn Sullivan of Haddonfield and Colin Rosser of Moorestown were all members of the St. Joseph’s Prep Varsity 8 boat that advanced to the quarterfinals at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England earlier this month. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The path to the Henley Royal Regatta, self-described as “undoubtedly the best known regatta in the world,” culminated with a seven-hour international flight over the Atlantic Ocean to River Thames in Oxfordshire, England, earlier this month. But it began in the basement of a prep school in North Philly.

It was there, in the bowels of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, that a group of nearly seven dozen, strong-willed teenagers sweated away their winter.

There probably wasn’t anyone in the room who would define it as fun, but they trusted their coach and each other that it was the necessary work to achieve success, sacrificing sleep and social activities for a common goal.

“These guys are quite talented and gifted athletes, but talent and gifts mean nothing if you’re not willing to push yourself hard enough to use them,” said Berlin native John Fife, a Prep graduate who just finished his second season coaching the crew team at his alma mater. “These guys push their limits every day. … No shortcuts, keeping each other accountable, and simple hard work.”

To say the work paid off would be a gross understatement. The Prep won the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship for the 40th time in program history and its Varsity 8, Lightweight 8, JV 8, Freshman 8 and Novice 8 were all victorious at the Philadelphia City Championship. 

And that was before they took their talents on the national and international stages. 

The Lightweight 8 won the Scholastic National Championship and, two months ago in Philly, the Varsity 8, Lightweight 8, and Freshman 8 won at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, the largest high school regatta in the world. 

For the nine athletes on the Varsity 8, the crowning achievement of their season came on Independence Day. On the second day of competition at the Henley Royal Regatta in the English town of Henley-on-Thames, Prep collected its second win in as many days when it battled back to beat a team from Germany. 

Comprised of just one senior, the Prep Varsity 8 that advanced to the quarterfinals of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley expects even bigger things in the coming year. Five of the nine members of the 2019 team hail from South Jersey: Pat O’Connell (Marlton), Aidan Kilgannon (Collingswood), Connor Thompson (Mount Laurel), Quinn Sullivan (Haddonfield) and Colin Rosser (Moorestown).

Besides Thompson, the coxswain who is currently scheduled to begin college at West Virginia University later this summer, the rest of the boat will be back for 2020.

“That’s the best part,” said Rosser, a rising senior. “The hard work starts now. … We won Stotesbury in May for the first time since 2010, then we went to Henley for the first time since 2011. Our standards are high now and (our expectations are) even higher now that we’ll no longer have any sophomores on the boat. It’s not going to be the same exact boat, but knowing that we’ll be even faster, it’s really exciting.”

Before getting started on realizing those goals for 2020, Prep’s Varsity 8 has one more international event to test itself before a three-week break in August prior to the start of the school year. The team is set to compete in two weeks at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catharines, a town that sits along Lake Ontario in Canada, just north of Niagara Falls.

For a young team that blossomed earlier than some expected, Prep is eager for more success and enjoying the ride, wherever it takes them next.

“We just came together really well and were able to put together a really uncommon kind of teamwork that you don’t find in every boat,” said O’Connell, a rising junior. 

“All nine of us understood the effort we needed to put in in order to win races,” Rosser said. “Throughout the grueling four months of winter training in the basement of the Prep, I gained a lot of trust in the other guys on the team, and that trust in each other is what allowed us to do what we did this year.”

Comprised of just one senior, the Prep Varsity 8 that advanced to the quarterfinals of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley expects even bigger things in the coming year. Thompson (center) is the only person on the 9-man boat who graduated in 2019. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

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If you’d like to help St. Joseph’s Prep’s crew program, Fife said the team is still accepting donations to cover the cost of the Henley trip.