St. Rose junior Brian Theobald proudly displays the Purple Roses award for winning the NJSIAA Non-Public B Track & Field Championship June 11. Theobald helped make it happen with three first-place finishes. Courtesy photo
St. Rose junior Brian Theobald proudly displays the Purple Roses award for winning the NJSIAA Non-Public B Track & Field Championship June 11. Theobald helped make it happen with three first-place finishes. Courtesy photo

This past Wednesday, June 14, Brian Theobald and Tillie O’Connor were asked how they were feeling. Their answers were fairly identical.

“It took a few days,” O’Connor said. “But I think my legs are back under me, which I’m happy about.”  

Added Theobald, “Today is the first day my calves weren’t like, as tight as can be. But it’s one of those things where you’re glad it’s there.”

Both junior distance runners from, St. Rose High School, Belmar, had reason to feel pain earlier in the week after winning three times apiece in the June 10-11 NJSIAA Non-Public B Championship Meet at Middletown North High School.

Each won the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter races, while O’Connor also took third in the 400. O’Connor helped the Purple Rose girls win the South Jersey title and finish third in the state (it was one meet, but was scored as both a sectional and a state meet) while Theobald led the boys to both the sectional and state championship.

It was only fitting the duo accomplished their “hat trick” together. They grew up as classmates at St. Catharine Grammar School, Spring Lake, and continued on to St. Rose together.

“We’ve been running partners for a while now,” said O’Connor, a Spring Lake resident. “We did all of our training together so I think that helps to be in the same boat. Obviously he’s a lot faster than me, so it’s kind of him pushing me more than I’m pushing him. It’s definitely great to have him there and I’m sure he feels the same.”

Not only are they talented runners; each takes their Catholic schooling and religion seriously. Both attend St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish in Spring Lake, and O’Connor sometimes attends St. Rose.  

“Faith is a big part of my life,” O’Connor said. “We go to church with our family, we say all the prayers before and after dinner. During cross country season our team might get together and say a quick prayer. I think it’s a core component for a lot of factors when it comes to running, in school and just all-around life.”

Theobald feels serving God is all part of representing his school and portraying it in a positive light. The Wall Township resident was honored to get a request from a St. Rose religion teacher this year.

“I’m becoming a Eucharistic Minister,” he said. “I’m doing the training right now. One of our religion teachers asked me and a few other people if we wanted to do it. It’s kind of a unique experience that you don’t get asked very often, so I took the opportunity.”

Another rare occurrence is runners from the same school sweeping all three distance events in a championship meet.

“It’s pretty impressive,” St. Rose coach Pete Casagrande said. “Brian told me he was gonna do this last summer. He knew for us to win Non-Public B he was going to have to win all three for us to do it.”

As for O’Connor, the coach said, “The first day was tough running an 800 and a 3200. They changed the schedule around and that threw everybody for a loop. Tilly was her usual self; very calm, very deliberate, she just took her time and did what she needed to do. Tilly’s one of the best runners you’re ever gonna see; she’s just an amazing kid.”

Both runners repeated their winter Non-Public B accomplishments of winning all three races. O’Connor actually won the 400 during the winter as well, but wasn’t too upset at finishing third over the weekend. She actually ran a PR (personal record) time of 61:28.

“I’d say the speed of Non-Public B got a little quicker in the spring,” she said. “I didn’t plan on running the 400 until that morning when my coach texted and said I may be doing it. Speed has not been my priority as much as it was during indoor season so that may be where I was lacking a little bit.”

Ironically, it was her only PR of the weekend as she ran 2:23 in the 800, 5:18 in the 1600 and 11:38 in the 3200.

“I wasn’t going for PRs, I was just trying to win,” said O’Connor, who missed last spring’s state meet due to illness. “I did so many races, I didn’t think it was possible to PR when you’re running all those races. It’s all too much. I had some pretty good PRs this season, so last weekend the goal was just to win races and get points for the team.  

“I kind of came up with a plan to stay in the pack around second or third before the last lap, and then kind of go for it. I tried to conserve my energy for the following races, just tried to save my legs. I didn’t want to wear myself out too much.”

Theobald had an almost similar plan in running 1:56 in the 800, 4:30 in the 1600 and 9:39 in the 3200. His 800 time was a PR by necessity.

“I definitely had to PR to win that,” he said. “In the other events, I just wanted to kind of sit, and then kick. I just trusted my ability to lay out the race and bring it home the last 400 meters. I did that in the 16 and 32 big time, just kicked in the last lap. I trusted my kick and split pretty fast coming home.”

Casagrande felt Theobald’s victory in the 800 was the springboard to St. Rose’s first state crown since 2016.

“I knew then we were in good shape,” the coach said. “Brian beat a kid he shouldn’t have. He’d run a time that was almost a second faster than Brian this year. Brian ran, not the race of his life, but he ran a smart race and beat him, and that just set the tone. Everybody else fell in line after that. They saw that and said, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

When Theobald and teammate Tyler Ferlise finished 1-3 in the 1600 – which they also did in the 3200 – it clinched the team championship for the Purple Roses.

“It’s amazing to see all the hard work pay off for everybody, and everybody contributed to the point scoring,” Theobald said. “We went in there with high hopes; just telling each other we’ve gotta compete like we normally do and it worked out pretty well.

“All of us are very, very hard workers, we all rely on each other,” he continued. “We’re all best friends, hanging out off the track, on the track. If one person isn’t putting in the work, we’ll make sure they know it and everyone just kind of relies on each other and we work together very well.”

The boys team got second-place finishes from Josh Huisman (shot, pole vault), Simon Advento and the 4x800 team; and a third-place finish from Timothy Clayton (400 hurdles). Ferlise, Advento and Nolan Vanderslice also helped with the scoring with fourth- and fifth-place points.

While the girls were able to win the South Jersey title, they were edged out for the state crown by Morris Catholic of Denville and Villa Walsh of Morristown.

“They had a great effort,” Casagrande said. “They had a tough meet, a lot of things didn’t go their way and they still really competed well. We had a couple falls and missed jumps. It was tough on them. They just couldn’t buy a break.”

“Obviously we’re a little disappointed because we were going for the win,” O’Connor said. “Everyone performed pretty well, everyone made improvements. This just gives us more motivation for next year to get the win.”

Fiona Olson had a third in the 400 hurdles, Genna DeLuca a fifth in high jump and Grace Toscano a fifth in javelin. The 4x400 finished fourth and the 4x800 eighth.

The top six individuals in each event are invited to advance to the June 18 Meet of Champions at Franklin High School; but this year the MOC is on the same weekend as the New Balance National meet in Philadelphia. Thus, athletes have to choose where to compete.

Theobald is opting for the nationals in the 2K Steeplechase, while O’Connor is trying to decide on the 1600 or 3200 in the Meet of Champs. She is leaning toward the 1600.

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In the Non-Public A boys meet, first-place finishes came from Christian Brothers Academy’s Chris Brown (high jump, 6-foot-6), Kam Coleman (triple jump, 47-0.5), Ben Skrincosky (pole vault, 12-0) and Jack Ryan (javelin, 177-0). The Colts won the South Jersey title and finished second in the Non-Public A states. In girls Non-Public A, Red Bank Catholic’s Cate DeSousa won the 3200 (10:30).