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Instead of rebuilding, St. Francis Prep reloads

Tuesday, June 5, 2007  
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Thursday, May 31, 2007 2:53 PM CDT

The St. Francis boys handball team won their fifth straight CHSAA city championship and completed yet another undefeated season.
Anthony Grimm was ready to rebuild. Grimm had lost a handful of seniors from last year’s city championship squad to graduation, had only two juniors returning, and was counting on several inexperienced players.

“We had high hopes, but when you graduate six seniors,” the coach said, “you’re not quite sure.”

Then the season began, and despite injuries, St. Francis Prep refused to lose. The Terriers never stopped, going on to win their fifth straight city championship and undefeated season. The Terriers blanked borough rival Molloy in the semifinals, 5-0, and topped Bishop Loughlin, 4-1, in the final last week to complete a perfect 16-0 season.

“As I said to my players, we just take it one point at a time,” Grimm said. “No coach goes into a season thinking we would go undefeated. There is always the hope to win a title. We hope to win next year as well. This year was a strange year, in the sense of injuries and guys failing off, and the team coming together. They stepped it up even more so than before.”

From the start, it was an atypical season. One-half of first doubles failed off the team, first singles James Ham suffered an injury to his primary left hand, along with a few other bumps and bruises to other starters. But whether it was freshman Wilson Lin stepping up from the jayvee, or Bob Ni solidifying second doubles alongside Joe Cippolina, the team kept on coming up aces. “When you have a junior varsity player stepping it up and playing on the varsity level each time they played, it’s like a dream come true,” the coach said.
James Lizzul, one of only two returning starters from last year, anchored the first doubles team, who lost just twice all season. His partner, Eric Yue, did not start on either varsity or jayvee, but “worked hard from last year to this year,” Grimm said, to stabilize the twosome.

Third singles Mike Murphy was the lone Terrier to go undefeated, and filled in admirably for Ham at first singles when he was injured, and another junior, Anil Jethanandani, starred at second singles. All return for a run at a sixth straight title next season. “That bodes well for us,” Grimm said. “We’re going into next year with some high hopes.”

Not lost was the jayvee, which enjoyed a perfect season; no player lost a match for the second straight year - the first time in Catholic league history that has happened since 1976. “The junior varsity is another blessing,” Grimm said.

“This season has been tremendous,” the fifth-year coach continued. “These guys came together and they support each other. As competitive as they are when they’re playing, you should see how they rally around each other. I can’t be at every [individual match]. As a coach, your attention is divided by three or four games and it is hard to be available. They look out for each other. … They point out weaknesses, or to capitalize on a particular strength.”