The term “dynasty” is often thrown around in the sports world.
In the modern era, there really have only been a handful of notable dynasties across the four major sports. Just to name a few, the mid-to-late 1980s Edmonton Oilers in the NHL, the 1990s Chicago Bulls in the NBA, the late ’90s New York Yankees in the MLB and the New England Patriots of the 2000s all made a habit of hoisting championship banners.
Here in the Diocese of Brooklyn, a budding sports dynasty just added the next chapter to its unfolding story.
The Mary Louis Academy (TMLA), Jamaica Estates, recently captured its second New York State GCHSAA varsity tennis title within the past four years. Along with the 2014 championship, this year’s title marked the second-ever state championship in TMLA tennis history.
With only four returning players from last year’s squad, the Hilltoppers began their journey toward a sixth consecutive undefeated regular season. The team only had 10 players on the roster, but all 10 remained committed all season toward continuing the program’s recent string of success.
“Let’s see how far we can write this story,” said head coach Kelly Kelley. “It was page by page, chapter by chapter, and let’s just keep going until it’s the end. You have the pen in your hand, how are you going to write your story?”
The story opened favorably during the regular season, with the team winning all but five sets during the fall campaign. The top three singles players – senior twins Amalia and Mia Parrish and sophomore Jade Killikelly – did not lose a match all season.
The Parrish twins used to play for the other local high school tennis powerhouse St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows. The duo transferred to TMLA during their sophomore year and sat out their junior year due to eligibility rules.
The playoffs began with the Hilltoppers defeating Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, 5-0, before being matched up against Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, in the Brooklyn/Queens championship. TMLA emerged victorious, 4-1, sending the team to the GCHSAA state tournament.
Though located in Queens, St. Francis Prep plays in the Long Island high school tennis division. The state semifinal match pitted TMLA against its old rivals, the L’il Terriers.
During the 1980 Winter Olympics, U.S. men’s hockey coach Herb Brooks famously told his team that the mighty Soviet Union might beat them nine times out of 10, but “not tonight.” Of course, the Americans went on to pull off the unforgettable “Miracle on Ice.”
In a similar fashion, Coach Kelley’s rallying cry of “Not today” became the theme for the Prep match.
“I think ‘Not today’ meant that we wouldn’t allow our opponents to beat us,” said Killikelly, the team’s third singles player and team captain. “We got this; we just have to stay in the moment and play every single point.”
“I must have said that (‘Not today’) 200 times in the match when we all played Prep,” said first singles player Amalia Parrish. “I constantly said that. I didn’t have to memorize or think about specific things going on. As long as I kept saying ‘Not today’ to myself, I knew everything was going to be all right.”
When the dust settled, TMLA had a 4-1 win over St. Francis. In the past 20 years, the L’il Terriers have only lost to another Catholic high school twice, and both times it was to the Hilltoppers.
But just like the 1980 U.S. hockey team, TMLA had one more hill to climb, since the Prep match was only the semifinals. Notre Dame Academy, Staten Island, awaited in the championship.
In what also became the city championship match, TMLA won all three singles as well as a doubles match to win the state title, 4-1.
“It was exciting since the beginning, the first match all the way through the championship match,” said second singles player Mia Parrish. “We have such a cohesive team with players who build each other up every day, even in school. Every one of us had the mindset that we wanted to win, and I think that’s what made us win in the end.”
The second state championship title in four years signifies that the seeds of a dynasty at TMLA have been planted, even to the surprise of the head coach.
“It’s been so unexpected,” Kelley said. “I started doing this when my daughter was on the team, and 10 years later, to see that it’s gotten to the point that it’s so successful, it’s just nice.”
So if you ask the TMLA tennis squad whether the thrill of winning a state championship will be wearing off any time soon, the Hilltoppers would have a simple response:
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.