The eight rowers from St. Joseph’s Prep College went to Sarasota, Florida, absolutely convinced that they had the collective talent to make a nationwide impact in Sunday’s US Rowing Youth National Regatta, and the feeling got stronger before they even got went into the water.
“The race was extremely emotional even before we even started,” said team co-captain Patrick O’Connell on Tuesday. âEveryone in this boat was fully committed and ready to cover this distance (2,000 meters). So when we were ahead in the first 500 meters, I had no doubt that we would win this race. “
O’Connell’s instinct was spot on. The Hawks maintained their advantage all along, winning their first national championship in Varsity 8 and becoming the first high school team to win the tournament in 11 years.
The winning time of the prep was 5 minutes, 51.730 seconds and defeated the runner-up Row New Jersey (5: 53.404) by almost a full boat length. Row New Jersey and the other four boats in the finals were club teams.
“We have so many doubters,” said co-captain and stroke Chris Weiss. âEveryone says high schools just can’t do that. They don’t have enough water time, they don’t have enough resources. But the crew we have this year is really special, and it’s not just the crew that won this race, it’s our entire team.
âWe have people behind the scenes who work so hard to get the guys at Uni-Acht to achieve this goal. It’s really a great feeling to know that high schools can do it if they just do the job right and don’t use the school excuse. “
The Sunday performance continued a season of excellence for the prep crew. The Hawks won their 41st Catholic League title. They took 10 first places in the city championships and six in the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, where they became the first team in 52 years to win the senior eight and senior four races in the same season.
“I would say this is the best season in Prep history so far,” said head coach John Fife. âI’m not saying that lightly. I am an alumnus of the school and I have rowed for preparation. The prep has a very eventful history with oars and it means a lot to me to say that this is the best year ever. But I think that’s it. “
The prep boat consisted of seven seniors – six rowers and one helmsman – determined to make up for their lost 2020 season, which was plagued by a pandemic.
“I don’t think anyone could be stuck inside for a day longer,” said O’Connell. âWhen we got back on the water, it was like a family get-together. Everyone rowed every stroke like it could be their last because we knew it could very well be and it gave us a great appreciation. It was just a festival. We understand how valuable all our time together and in the boats really is. “
With such an experienced crew, leadership was an essential part of the success.
âWe are setting a good example,â said Weiss. âWe don’t have to yell and yell at the boys and kick them in the face. We always talk about the boathouse – if we do the little things right, the big things are sure to be good – things like cleaning after yourself, picking up the oars, putting the oars down properly, just carrying yourself like a professional athlete and doing the little things. “
The prep showed strong performances in other races in the youth national team. His U17 eight, a boat with newbies and rowers in its sophomore year, won the silver medal. The college couple finished fifth. Three other boats were placed in the top 10 in their respective divisions.
Another event awaits the St. Joseph’s Prep Crew – the famous Henley Regatta in England. August have been postponed. Fife said the team plans to go to Henley, “and hopefully the US-UK travel restrictions will make it easier for us to travel without being quarantined.”
The Henley will say goodbye to the Prep’s senior rowers on the way to college while O’Connell goes to Princeton and Weiss to Washington. While the Hawks crew takes a break before training for their trip, they will always enjoy the memories of their National Youth Championship victory.
“When I received my medals and took photos of my teammates, I didn’t even fully understand that we won,” said O’Connell. âIt was such an emotional race. It didn’t even register with me that we won the race, that is the most competitive in the United States. It is finally starting and I am really proud and very happy that I was allowed to be a part of it. “