The St. Joseph’s Prep varsity eight boat has one more finish line to cross this season, but it will have to do it overseas.
On Sunday, coach John Fife and his team will suspend their two-a-days to fly to London in advance of the Henley Royal Regatta, which lasts from July 3-7 in Henley-on-Thames, England. The regatta is one of the most prestigious in the world, featuring more than 200 races and attracting thousands of spectators each year.
The Prep’s varsity eight qualified for the regatta’s Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup after winning the Stotesbury Cup on the Schuylkill in May, a victory that few saw coming a matter of months ago.
“We’ve really exceeded my expectations that I had in the fall this entire spring," said Colin Rosser, who will be a senior in September. “Especially with such a young boat ... I really wasn’t expecting much from this season, so already we’ve overperformed and it’s really giving me confidence for Henley.”
The youth Rosser describes is undeniable: the varsity eight features five sophomores, three juniors, and one senior coxswain from this season, so each rower will be back for next year. Rosser’s father, Jeff, admitted that he didn’t foresee this group competing at such a high level so soon.
“I was [surprised], quite frankly,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, everybody thought, ‘Oh boy, well, you know, 2020 is going to be the year, but this year we’re ramping up because we’ve got such a young boat.’”
Nevertheless, Fife noticed something about the group early on that made him look past its youth and inexperience.
“This is a particularly young boat, but even though they’re young, they’re very, very driven, individually and as a group,” he said. “I could tell from the beginning of the fall this past year that they were very focused and driven to be successful, and it wasn’t just that they had these hopes and dreams; they were willing to do the work to go and achieve them.”
That ambition might explain Fife’s decision to handle the team’s preparation for the season differently from other coaches. While most teams took to the water beginning in mid-February, Fife kept his team practicing in the Prep’s basement on rowing machines weeks into March.
“Coach Fife had a plan for us and he knew that we had to hit certain numbers, and if we didn’t do that we were going to keep staying inside in order to be a successful crew,” Colin Rosser said. "It was a very painful and long winter, but I think that the amount of effort and grind we put in during the winter showed this spring.”
The season didn’t begin perfectly -- the Prep lost its first race of the year after having only three days to practice on the water -- but the decision to prolong the indoor practices is paying dividends now.