Gonzaga High School's tennis team has only two seniors, no home courts and a coach looking for someone better qualified to handle his players. Yet the Purple Eagles have won their first Metro Conference championship.
The Eagles (15-1), who have three area-ranked players, as well as a concert pianist, moved into sole possession of first place in the conference after recently defeating Ireton, 6-3. Gonzaga defeated McNamara, 8-1, on the final day of the season to clinch the title.
"We practice for a week during spring break at Trinity College and another week (also during spring break) at Georgetown Prep. Then we use Georgetown Visitation on weekends," the coach, Rev. Raymond Lelii, said of his team's practice schedule. "We have $25,000 to build the courts, but we need some land."
Gonzaga, located on I Street NW just off North Capitol Street, has petitioned the city's Redevelopment Land Agency for use of an unoccupied 90-foot plot of land that abuts H Street NW. If the land is made available, the school could enlarge its football field and build four tennis courts.
Lelii, who started Gonzaga's tennis program 21 years ago, is always looking for help. This season his prayers were answered in the person of Rev. Peter Clark, a former tennis player and coach (1978-83) at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia.
"Ray said he needed some help and I just agreed," Clark said of his recruitment.
The team's top spot is held by Matt Flanagan, a 6-foot-3 junior who is ranked third in Virginia for 16-and-unders and 19th in the Middle Atlantic Tennis Association. He displays an extremely aggressive style with a strong forearm and a lot of top spin that makes the ball seem to explode off his racket, especially on serves.
Flanagan hits his second serve as hard as his first, which sometimes leads to double-faulting, but which also sometimes leads to second-serve aces. He finished the season at 15-1. "Power," as he is called by his teammates, also plays basketball and soccer.
Sophomore Kevin Mulcahy is undefeated and holds the No. 2 position. Mulcahy, who is ranked No. 7 in Virginia and No. 23 with MATA, is a confident, self-controlled player with excellent foot speed and plenty of range.
Tom Pablo, the No. 3 player, "is the spirit of this team," according to Clark. A senior who is ranked No. 2 Delaware, Pablo (15-1) is always hustling.
Sophomore Benjamin Watkins, who plays the fourth spot with a record of 10-6, doesn't show a lot of power. In watching him casually, one would probably label him a finesse player because he likes to put a lot of spin on the ball.
Paul Ruff, the team's fifth man, likes the base line game. Ruff "is good enough to play for Georgetown (where he'll be going) next year," says Clark. Ruff (12-4), an honor roll student since freshman year, also is good enough to play piano in the international Bartok competitions at the University of Maryland.
Sean Raymond, dubbed "Little One" by Lelii, is a 5-foot freshman who holds the team's sixth position. Although he got serious about tennis only three years ago, Raymond (13-2) has lost only to Ireton's Dave Willsey.
"They're a great bunch of kids," Lelii said. "And they'd be even better if they had tennis courts."