By Joseph Staszewski
Donna Episcopio and Nicolle Holloran realized just how important the next few points would be as a throng of spectators along with their St. Francis Prep teammates walked down to the tennis court after all the other matches concluded.
The duo’s first doubles match, which they forced to a tie breaker, would decide whether the Terriers dominance of the CHSAA girls’ tennis state crown would continue or if Mary Louis would bring their era of dominance to a close.
“It was crazy,” said the senior Holloran. “The whole team is depending on you. You know they are depending on you. That’s why they are coming over to cheer for you. Oh, my God, that much energy. It was great.”
As the Hilltoppers’ final shot went long, Espiscopio and Holloran embraced on their side of the net before being mobbed by cheering teammates. Their comeback 3-6, 7-6 (7-0), 10-7 win over TMLA’s Victoria Zezula and Joanna Latek sealed St. Francis Prep’s 3-2 victory and its 16th straight title at Alley Pond Park Oct. 22. The competition has closed the gap with the once-dominant Terriers, but has yet to knock them off.
“I think it gets more exciting every year,” Espiscopio said. “It’s a challenge, but I’m always up for a challenge. I know this team is up for a challenge too.”
She and Hollaran had cupcakes smashed in their faces by teammates in celebration after their post-match interviews. It was a sign of the energy and the competitive spirit that made this team special all season, according to SFP Coach John Brennan. St. Francis Prep (11-0) won its Nassau/Suffolk league title thanks to the final match as well. It made this year so much different than those prior.
“I’ve had teams that were so much better than everyone,” Brennan said. “It almost bothered me. It was so blasé. There was no doubt who was going to win. But this is by far the most enthusiastic team I’ve ever seen and you see it. When have you ever seen Prep jumping up and down like that?
Mary Louis, which won its second straight Brooklyn/Queens crown, believed it had a chance to beat the Terriers coming in. It looked good early as the Hilltoppers (11-1) won the first set in three of the five matches. Unbeaten first singles Yuka Lin bested SFP’s Laurn Munari 6-2, 6-2 and Teammate Lisa Marchelska came back to beat Lisa Elie 1-6, 7-6, 7-4 in a tiebreaker, but TMLA couldn’t nail down the championship point.
“It does hurt,” Hilltoppers Coach Kelly Kelley said. “It was like it was in our grasp and I feel like it just got pulled away.”
St. Francis Prep’s Paula Faltynowicz topped Keri Picciochi at third singles 6-1, 6-2 and her teammates Camillemae Uy and Lindsay Sayour beat Abigail Raphael and Julia Scapp at second double. Still Kelley sees the match as a big step forward for her program, which lost 4-1 last year.
“We took the best team to a tie breaker for all the marbles,” she said.
With the title in reach, St. Francis wasn’t about to let it go without a major fight to win one of the most satisfying crowns in program history.
“Our main goal was to keep winning, keep this whole season, keep the whole state thing going,” Holloran said. “It’s amazing to know we did it this year.”