Sports Columnist

John Knebels

The higher the expectations, the harder the fall when you don’t live up to them.

That explains why St. Joseph’s University’s men’s crew team was supporting a collective bruise this past weekend.

As almost 3,000 athletes from the United States and Canada descended upon the Schuylkill River to compete at the 71st annual Dad Vail Regatta, St. Joe’s was confident in its chances of acquiring some medals. Five boats had an opportunity to state their case.

However, because of weather conditions and problems with debris along the river, the regular format of six lanes and 2,000 meters was replaced with a two-lane, 1,500-meter setup. While that might not seem like a big deal to non-rowers, imagine preparing for a full-court basketball game with 13-foot baskets and instead having to play half-court with eight-foot baskets.

The end result was not pretty.

“We’re disappointed,” said SJU coach Drew Hill. “We expected to do better.”

Other than the lightweight eight boat, the Hawks were unable to qualify past time trials, although the junior varsity eight missed qualifying for the grand finale by three tenths of a second.

And although the lightweight eight did seize a bronze medal, it did little to appease the disappointment of Kevin Burrows, a Monsignor Bonner High School graduate and St. Joe’s senior.

“We said from the start that our goal was to win gold, and we came up short,” he said. “I really thought we could win a gold medal.”

The good news is that SJU’s lightweight eight has a great chance of performing better in the future because all but two participants will graduate; two will also graduate from the varsity eight. Included in those returning from this year’s lightweight eight next season are sophomore coxswain Paul Leggieri (St. Joseph’s Prep), freshman Justin Gentile (Bonner) and freshmen Matt Benedetto, Sean Stewart and Brandon Hanna – all Malvern Preparatory School alums.

The bad news is that rowers such as Burrows will be unable to add their collection of four career Dad Vail medals, including both a gold and silver.

“Three weeks ago we showed that we were capable of winning,” said Hill. “It just didn’t happen.”

Hill was asked if the pall surrounding the recent accidental death of 26-year-old Matt Mullin, a graduate of both St. Joseph’s Prep and St. Joseph’s University and stalwart on both crew programs interfered with the Hawks’ performance.

Although SJU’s crew named its new varsity eight boat after Mullin in a ceremony Saturday morning and everyone at the boathouse wore a black patch with Mullin’s initials across their chest, Hill downplayed a possible cause-effect theory.

“The rowers didn’t know him, so I think it affected the coaches a lot more,” said Hill. “Matt was a special guy. He had an infectious smile and an infectious laugh. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him. Losing him like that was very emotional.”

John Knebels can be reached at