By Laura Amato
It felt good to be back on top.
The St. Francis boys’ tennis team defeated Iona Prep last Thursday, clinching the program’s first CHSAA city championship in the last five seasons.
It’s the 10th time the Terriers have wrapped up the season with a title, but, after a few years falling short, this one felt particularly special.
“We hadn’t won for five years and, for us, that was a long time,” Prep coach John Brennan said. “I was obviously very happy to win this. You have to have some players and you have to have the commitment. I’d always like more commitment and players, but we had just enough this season.”
Of course, the tennis tradition at St. Francis Prep is a rich one.
Brennan has been with the program for nearly three decades, including 25 years as the head boys coach. Meanwhile, the girls squad has won the city title for 18 straight seasons – never dropping a single match.
It’s a string of success that is practically unprecedented at the high school level and one Brennan takes an enormous amount of pride in.
“I’d like to think that any kid who really likes tennis in this area would come to Prep,” he said. “I take it really seriously. We practice more than anyone and I don’t think it’s even that close.”
There have been a few ups and downs over the last few seasons – struggles to fill out a roster and those five years without a championship – but Brennan and the Terriers have never lost their focus.
If anything, both the boys and the girls teams have upped their determination in recent years, sticking to a practice schedule and workout regiment that other programs wouldn’t even consider implementing.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s about me, but it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m really into it,” Brennan said. “I played at St. John’s and they know that I’m going to practice a lot. And I know how to practice. Unfortunately in the tennis world, there are a lot of coaches that don’t even play tennis and that’s kind of sad.”
The Terriers don’t just practice after school. This is a year-round sport for the athletes at Prep and they’re out on the court as often as possible – even at 7:30 in the morning during summer break.
“I think a lot of other places it’s like intramurals,” Brennan said. “I make it very clear that this is not intramurals. You’re not really serious about it if you’re not ready to practice five days a week.”
It’s not easy, but, as far as Brennan is concerned, it shouldn’t be. This is as serious as any other sport and the success that the Terriers have become accustomed to is worth every early-morning wake-up call.
Now, the teams are simply looking to keep things going.
“We have enough [talent] that we’re still pretty good,” Brennan said. “I think it can continue. I hope it does, at least. We’ll just have to wait and see.”