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Gilford boys’ tennis team ready to defend five straight D-III titles

  • Gilford’s Christian Workman returns a shot during his No. 2 singles match against Bow in the Division III championship at the Derryfield School in Manchester last spring. Gilford won, 6-3, for its fifth straight title. MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor file

  • Gilford’s Christian Workman (second from left) celebrates with teammates after the Golden Eagles clinched their fifth straight Division III title last spring. MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor file



Monitor staff
Sunday, April 01, 2018

It makes sense to take a closer look at the Gilford boys’ tennis team to start the season, because for the last five years the Division III season has ended with the Golden Eagles on top.

Gilford claimed its fifth consecutive title, and seventh in the last eight years, with a 6-3 win over Bow in the finals. That championship match also pushed the Golden Eagles’ winning streak to 84 straight matches. The last time they lost was against Profile in the 2012 semifinals, when the current group of Gilford seniors were in sixth grade.

The Golden Eagles are hungry to keep winning, but they will have to do it with some new faces in the lineup. Four of last year’s top six have graduated.

“I tell the boys that last year was last year and you can’t look in the rearview mirror,” said Terry Wilson, now in his 17th season as Gilford’s head coach. “You have your own identity. Grant (Workman, last year’s No. 1) is gone, (Connor) Craigie (last year’s No. 4 and a co-captain along with Workman) is gone, guys like that. So you have to find your own identity as a team.

Like many teams around the state, the Golden Eagles started forming that identity this spring by hitting balls in gyms and running up and down school hallways and stairs. But their courts were clear on Wednesday, they were hitting outside on Thursday and they should be ready to begin their title defense with the season-opener on Tuesday against Prospect Mountain.

“We’re all ready to work and to be really focused, because we want to see if we can get to 100 in a row,” said Christian Workman, Grant’s cousin who was No. 2 last year and will likely move into the top spot on the ladder this year.

The Golden Eagles don’t really like to talk about their streaks, so it was no surprise that after he mentioned the “100 in a row” goal, Workman quickly added, “but we also tell everybody to hush it down and focus on one game at a time, really.”

Workman is a steady player with classic strokes who plays a little in the offseason. As he prepares to make the move to the spot, he’s focused on the fundamentals.

“I just need to move my feet more and keep my eye on the ball instead of looking at where I need to hit it. That’s something I struggled with last year and this year I’m working on it more and I’m noticing a lot more balls going in,” Workman said. “And my serve is getting more consistent, so I think if I work on those things it will be a good season.

Gilford’s only other returning starter is Tyler Hanf, a crafty player who uses a variety of spin and played No. 3 last year.

“I selected Christian and Tyler as my co-captains,” Wilson said. “They are wonderful leaders for the team. Great role models, great kids and great tennis players, and that’s what you need year in and year out.”

You also need depth, and the Golden Eagles believe they have that, too.

“I think we’ve had players on the team for two years now that haven’t even been in the top eight, but they could have been in the top six and would have played just as well as any of the players we had there,” Workman said. “So I think this year will be pretty good.”

Wilson said that as many 10 players have a legitimate chance of claiming the other four spots on the ladder. That kind of quality depth has been a staple for this program and a main reason why Gilford has won 84 straight matches.

“Very few freshman or even sophomores have ever made it into the top six, there have been a few exceptions, but usually, like in many sports, kids work their way up. They waited their turn and now it’s their time to shine,” Wilson said.

“So I tell them my goals for you are to work hard and improve, and I want us to be competitive. Where that goes, we don’t know and we don’t want to think about it. We don’t want them think about how many championships in a row, how many matches in a row. I said, ‘Guys, don’t put pressure on yourselves. Just work hard every day, play your best and where we end up is where we end up.’ ”

Don’t be surprised if they end up in the finals against Bow, which has finished runner-up to Gilford five of the last seven seasons. The Falcons return four of their top six from last year’s team that lost to Gilford in the regular-season, 5-4, before falling again in the finals.

“We go to Bow knowing it’s going to be a harder match, but trying to take it as any other one, but then we show up there and it seems like they’re really amped up,” Workman said. “So that gets us amped up and it becomes a much more intense tennis match.”

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