With a 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame, Kevin Kennedy often gets asked if he plays basketball for St. Joseph's Prep.

"That happens all the time," he said. "Someone will say, 'You're so tall. You must play basketball.' When I say that I'm a rower, it's a pretty big surprise."

For the Prep crew, Kennedy has been a steady and strong performer.

This spring, the 18-year-old has been a fixture in the No. 5 seat for the highly successful varsity senior eight.

"He's been in our varsity eight the last three years," Hawks coach Bill Lamb said. "That's pretty extraordinary."

In yesterday's 82d Stotesbury Cup Regatta, in rainy and damp conditions on the Schuylkill, the Prep varsity eight advanced to this morning's semifinals with a second-place qualifying time of 4 minutes, 12.25 seconds.

First-place Winter Park, Fla., covered the 1,500-meter course in 4:10.46.

"We were a bit shaky," said Kennedy, who will row at Penn and study at the Wharton School of Business.

"It definitely wasn't our best race. We were jittery. Possibly nerves got the best of us."

Before yesterday, the Prep varsity eight was invincible.

"That's the first time we lost anything all year," Lamb said. "That's bound to happen. You're bound to have a flat performance. Actually, more than being flat, we were probably over-excited for the race."

Kennedy lives in Moorestown. His brother, Bob, 25, rowed for the Hawks (Class of 2001) and Yale.

"When it comes to rowing, he was my No. 1 inspiration," Kevin Kennedy said.

"He was very successful as a lightweight at the Prep. I think he lost only two races in his entire varsity career.

"He did well at Yale, too. As a senior there, his boat won the [Intercollegiate Rowing Association] and took second at the Henley Royal Regatta."

Kevin and Bob Kennedy's sister, Maura, 22, rowed for Bishop Eustace Prep (Class of 2004).

Nagging injuries slowed her career at Boston University.

In today's semifinal, the Prep will row out of lane No. 3.

La Salle (fifth-place qualifying time of 4:19.97) will line up right next to the Hawks, in lane No. 4, and should be their chief competitor.

There are 180 or so schools competing in the regatta, which is considered one of the most prestigious high school regattas in the United States.

"The competition here is fierce," said Malvern Prep coach Craig Hoffman, who will have four boats - varsity four, two varsity lightweight doubles and varsity single - taking part in next week's Scholastic Rowing Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

In the boys' varsity four yesterday, Roman Catholic (4:28.20) nipped Malvern Prep (4:28.47) at the finish line.

The Ocean City girls' varsity four advanced with a third-place qualifying time of 5:25.35.

That two-time state champion boat is made up of Nicole DeCredico, Shawnee Foglio, Heather Higbee and Amy Shrader.

"They have a legitimate chance of getting into the finals," Red Raiders coach Jeff Garbutt said.

For Moorestown, a seventh-year program which practices on the Cooper River, the boys' varsity lightweight eight posted a second-place time of 4:29.10.

St. Joseph's Prep (4:25.59) owned the day's best mark.

"There are a lot of fast lightweight eights this year," Moorestown coach John Lloyd said. "We're trying to chase down the Prep. They're an excellent crew."

The Moorestown girls, led by Harvard-bound senior Kirsten Van Fossen, placed 13th in the varsity four. They advanced with a time of 5:35.06.

Mount St. Joseph Academy (4:48.20) took top qualifying honors in the girls' varsity eight, followed by Bishop Eustace (4:51.81), Mainland (4:51.94) and Holy Spirit (4.52.00).

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Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien

at 610-313-8019

or robrien@phillynews.com.