By: James Williamson
PHILADELPHIA –Over the last 13 years, boys tennis in the Philadelphia Catholic League has been defined by one team, the La Salle College High School Explorers. During such an unprecedented year that has altered our history books for decades to come, change is to be expected. Entering Tuesday’s PCL tennis championship, St. Joseph’s Prep was determined to start a new chapter, leave the past in the past and establish their own legacy as top dogs in the Catholic League.
Chapter 15…. Game, Set, Match. The Hawks finally got the ending they were looking for and captured their first PCL tennis title since 2006 by defeating Devon Prep 4-1.
St. Joe’s Prep reached each of the last four PCL championships prior to the cancellation of the 2020 season. Each time, they had fallen short at the hands of La Salle. Without an Explorers team standing in their way this year, they were finally able to reach the mountaintop.
“I’m a senior, it’s my fourth year on the team and the first two years, we made it to the finals and we lost, unfortunately, to La Salle,” said St. Joseph Prep’s Krish Chawla. “My sophomore year it was a pretty close match, but we didn’t come out on top. So this year it’s really great, it’s kind of like picture perfect winning the PCL ‘Ship’ as a senior.”
This championship victory has been a longtime coming. 15 years is a hefty gap between PCL titles, but it pales in comparison to the past year this young Hawks’ team had to endure. St. Joe’s Prep looked like they had a good chance at achieving PCL glory heading into last season with a senior-heavy team, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and any hopes they had of ending their title drought quickly faded. After missing out on the 2020 season, the current players dedicated this championship victory to last year’s seniors who never got a final opportunity to compete for a PCL plaque.
“Not having a season last year was tough, especially being a senior dominated team and we saw a lot of people go without a season,” said St. Joseph’s Prep assistant coach, Joe Boyle. “So it was great being able to put together a full season this year and end it on a positive note.”
“We all felt bad for the seniors honestly last year who didn’t get to win because it really looked like we would have,” said St, Joseph’s Prep sophomore, Luke Gallagher. “I think this year, it was kind of just in our heads, we’re doing this for the seniors, we’ve got to win for them.”
Last year’s graduating class weren’t the only former St. Joe’s students this team was trying to win a title for. Head coach, Bob Boyle, and assistant coach, Joe Boyle, are both St. Joe's Prep alumni. Bob Boyle is a member of the class of ‘87, while his nephew graduated from the class of ‘09. This PCL championship was something the two had yearned for quite some time and the fact they did it together made it all the more special.
“We’ve waited a long time for this and to do it for our alma mater. We both went here to St. Joe’s Prep, to do it with my nephew, we’ve worked a lot of time on tennis courts in our life,” said Bob Boyle. “We've talked about this for a long, long time. We didn’t get the opportunity to play a season last year, so especially for the seniors, this is super meaningful.”
Gallagher was the first to secure a victory for the Hawks as he beat Jack George 6-1, 6-0 in the second singles match. He was happy to walk away with the first points for his team as he saw it as a way of taking some of the stress off his other teammates.
“It felt really good walking off just knowing I set the tone 1-0 and I knew it also takes some stress off of everyone else who’s playing even though I know everyone was confident walking in,” said Gallagher. “It is just a nice little stress remover to know that you’re up 1-0, but I think we didn’t even need that. I think the other matches did really well.”
Connor Kryst was the next singles victory for St. Joe’s with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Devon Prep’s Ryan Bill in the third singles matchup. The lone singles loss the Hawks suffered on the day was in the first singles match, as Devon Prep’s Mitchell Bramlage defeated Matthew Bae 6-1, 6-2. This was Bae’s lone PCL loss of the season and he was very complimentary of Bramlage after their match.
“I would say he’s the toughest opponent I’ve played this year,” said St. Joseph’s Prep senior Matthew Bae. “I’ve been undefeated so far in the PCL and he’s the only one who’s beaten me. Kudos to him, he’s only a junior, but his future is really bright.”
Dwyer Barrett and Jordan Sztejman were the first doubles pair to capture victory for St. Joe’s, defeating Colin McCusker and Ethan Skorup 6-1, 6-3 in the second doubles match. Their win was the deciding point and sealed the Hawks PCL title. Although St. Joe’s had already secured their victory, the first doubles match continued until completion. The match was the longest of the day and seemingly went on forever as both teams struggled to break deuce. St. Joe’s pair of Chawla and Peter Bae ultimately captured the 6-2, 6-1 victory over Devon’s Patrick Dean and Brendan Thompson and finished the team’s 4-1 championship victory.
“This was definitely the goal, we felt that we had the right bunch of guys and then if we stayed healthy, it was definitely a goal of ours to win the Catholic League championship this year and, like I said, especially for the seniors, but also for the freshman, the sophomores, the juniors and it just feels great to accomplish this,” said Bob Boyle. “This was a high priority for us, this is why we came back to do this, and we’re going to savor this moment, but we’re also going to get right back to doing what we do in order to get ready for the postseason because that’ll be exciting.”
St. Joe’s will celebrate their PCL title for now, but they’ll soon switch their sights to a much bigger prize. The Hawks will be competing in Districts for the first time in quite a while. They will play on Tuesday at Abraham Lincoln High School with the expectation being that they’ll face off against Central High School.
“Both of us are very hopeful and positive about what the future of the program looks like and we’re looking forward to going to districts for the first time and seeing what the postseason looks like for us beyond the Catholic League,” said Joe Boyle. “We’re just really proud of our team and how we performed, not only today, but all season.”
As for Devon Prep, the giant slayers who ended La Salle’s 13-year reign as champions, the future looks promising. The Tide may not have been able to secure victory in the PCL title game, but they still have a PIAA title to compete for this spring. This is a young team with many returning players, including Bramlage, their top singles player. Devon Prep’s goal is to use their shortcomings in the Catholic League championship as motivation for next season. Having only joined the PCL in 2018, the Tide is quickly adjusting to their new league opponents and hope to create a legacy of their own in the near future.
“They’ve been impressive for the last couple years, they just keep getting better and better and their players really compete with a lot of sportsmanship, they’re really talented,” said Bob Boyle. “We saw their number one player (Bramlage) a few years back and he just continues to develop and their whole team has developed and it’s great for the Catholic League. It's’ great they’re a part of it and we wish them all the best as they’ll be continuing to PIAA also.”
2021 PCL Championship Match Results:
1st Singles - DP’s Mitchell Bramlage def. SJP’s Matthew Bae (6-1, 6-2)
2nd Singles - SJP’s Luke Gallagher def. DP’s Jack George (6-1, 6-0)
3rd Singles - SJP’s Connor Kryst def. DP’s Ryan Bill (6-3, 6-2)
1st Doubles - SJP’s Krish Chawla & Peter Bae def. DP’s Patrick Dean & Brendan Thompson (6-2, 6-1)
2nd Doubles - SJP’s Dwayne Barrett & Jordan Sztejman def. DP’s Colin McCusker & Ethan Skorup (6-1, 6-3)