Division III boys’ tennis final: No. 1 Gilford puts its 83-match winning streak on the line against No. 3 Bow

  • Brayden Binder competes in his No. 1 singles match against Inter-Lakes at Bow High School last spring. Binder and the Falcons will play top-seeded Gilford for the Division III championship today at Derryfield School. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Evan Alfano competes in his No. 2 singles match against Inter-Lakes at Bow High School on May 20, 2016. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/29/2017 11:06:26 PM

They don’t want to talk about it. Just asking about it gets you a dirty look.

“Best to keep that under wraps,” Gilford High senior Alden Blais said.

What Blais and the rest of the Gilford boys’ tennis team wants under wraps and silent is the team’s 83-match winning streak. The last loss for the Golden Eagles came in the 2012 semifinals against Profile. Since then, it’s been nothing but victories, including four straight D-III championships.

Top-ranked Gilford (16-0) will play for a fifth straight title, and an 84th straight win, in Tuesday’s final against No. 3 Bow (14-2) at The Derryfield School.

“I’m excited to play in the finals as a senior,” said Kyle Davies, won claimed the match-clinching win in the Eagles’ 8-1 semifinal win against No. 4 Kearsarge, “but it’s won’t be easy.”

Gilford has clinched all its matches in singles this year except for one – its 5-4 win against, you guessed it, Bow.

“We know they’re a great team and (Gilford Coach) Terry (Wilson) does a great job with his kids every year and they work hard,” Bow Coach Drew Groves said. “We know we’re the underdogs going into this, but I think we have a good chance.”

The two teams split singles in that April 17 match with Gilford winning at No. 1, 2 and 3 and Bow taking No. 4, 5 and 6. The Eagles pulled it out by taking two of the three doubles matches, a result that prompted Groves to make some changes in his doubles lineup.

“After that loss we felt like, if we’re going to pull this off at the end of the year, if we’re lucky enough to get to the final and maybe play Gilford again, then we need to make some changes,” Groves said. “You really can’t make changes in singles, so we decided to try something new in doubles.”

Groves moved No. 3 Caleb Olson, an athlete new to tennis this year, to the first doubles team with Brayden Binder. It took Olson some time to acclimate to the top of the doubles ladder, but he eventually adjusted to the move and the other two doubles teams (No. 2 Evan Alfano and No. 5 Dillon D’Allesandro at second doubles, and No. 4 Mike Mullen and No. 6 Zach Mullen at third doubles) are also thriving. The Falcons swept all three doubles matches in their 7-2 semifinal win at No. 2 Portsmouth Christian Academy, the only other team to beat Bow this year.

“I think right now our confidence comes from having a real solid feeling going into doubles,” Groves said. “Everybody is buying into the fact that we’re competitive at doubles.”

The Falcons aren’t the only ones who understand the importance of doubles when it comes time to win titles.

“We spend a lot of the post regular season working on doubles,” Gilford’s Wilson said. “My players aren’t as familiar with all the differences in doubles, but when we come down to close matches like the one we had with Bow, it comes down to doubles, so that’s why we work on it.”

Wilson may be forthcoming with postseason practice habits, but when it comes to his team’s winning streak ... not so much.

“We don’t talk about that now. We take it one game at a time. Wilson has never said anything about that,” said Grant Workman, Gilford’s No. 1 player. “We don’t want to think too much about that.”

“The kids know it’s there, I know it’s there, but I really don’t let them talk about it,” Wilson said. “We’re on a nice run right now, I would say that.”

The Eagles were, however, willing to talk about why they have been so good for so long (this will be their ninth trip to the finals in the last 10 years). There are a variety of factors, including Wilson’s coaching (he’s now in his 16th year with the team), the proximity of Gilford Hills Tennis Club (“We usually have a couple of year-round, indoor players, and that always helps,” Workman said) and a having tennis-playing families in the school district, like the Workmans (Grant’s cousin, Christian, is No. 2 on the team).

Perhaps the most important factor, the one that kept coming up as the Eagles talked about their tennis tradition, was a simple one – love of the game. The two Workmans are the only year-round players Gilford has right now, but once the season starts, all of the Eagles are playing as much tennis as possible. 

“Almost our entire team will go hit under the lights after we practice,” Grant Workman said. “I think the lights stay on until 10:30, something like that, and we’re always there hitting and rallying and stuff like that.”

“A lot of our team is from the soccer team or the basketball team, and tennis is a good way to stay in shape and keep your feet moving, but it’s also something we enjoy a lot,” Blais said. “We have the local courts with lights, so we can play anytime we want, and we love it.”

Just don’t ask them about winning at that sport they love, even when it comes to Tuesday’s final.

“We’re just going there to do what we do,” Workman said. “We’ll do the best we can and see what happens.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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