While the Mount St. Joseph tennis team plays its home matches just off of Frederick Road near Catonsville, and travels throughout the Baltimore area for its road matches, the team truly makes its home in Howard County.
"Out of nine players, seven are from Howard County," said 10th-year coach Tom Hughes, who has been a physics teacher at the school for 40 years. "A lot of these guys know each other (from playing tennis growing up). They start talking and all of the sudden we're a powerhouse ... the team is loaded with Howard County boys."
The Gaels finished the season 12-0, defeating Gilman in mid-May, 4-1, for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title. It was Mount St. Joseph's first MIAA tennis championship in school history, and its first tennis championship of any kind since 1984. In 2010, Mount St. Joseph finished the regular season undefeated, but lost to Gilman in the championship, 3-2.
McDonogh — the defending champ and the team that the Gaels defeated, 5-0, in the semifinals — and Gilman had won 15 of the last 16 titles, with Calvert Hall breaking up the duopoly in 2001.
Junior Jordan Portner (No. 1 singles), junior Tristan Boustany (No. 2 singles), senior Matt Bishop (No. 3 singles) and the top doubles team of junior Colin Crawford and senior Kevin Gates all finished this season undefeated for the Gaels, culminating with trophies at the individual championships at McDonogh on May 17.
All five of those players hail from Howard County, and four of them — Portner, Boustany, Bishop and Crawford — are ranked nationally. Portner is being recruited by several Ivy League schools and Bishop will play for Elon University in North Carolina next year.
Gates, who was 40-0 in high school, will play at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
"When you look around at most schools in the MIAA, they have one or maybe two tournament players. All seven of our players are tournament players," Hughes said.
All season, the No. 2 doubles team — normally freshman Quentin Boustany and sophomore Matt Phelps — lost only twice, once to Loyola and once to Gilman in the championship, and placed second in the individual championships, losing a close, three-set match in the finals.
In head-to-head matches, the Gaels were 58-2 this year for a winning percentage of .967.
Phelps, who lives in Catonsville, was the only regular starter in the ladder who is not from Howard County. He, Gates and Quentin Boustany are all highly ranked individual tournament players in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The team's alternates, sophomore Will Dawkins and senior Sam Hartley (also from Howard County), played in about half of the matches and won five times, filling in at No. 2 doubles when one of their teammates was away at a national tournament.
"Both are excellent tennis players who would play regularly on most any other team in the league," Hughes said. "All of my doubles players would be No. 1 singles at most schools."
In addition to their incredible depth, Hughes said that the Gaels were aided by the addition of assistant Chris Burlan, a professional tennis instructor, to the coaching staff this season.
"He is, in my opinion, one of the top teaching professionals in the Baltimore area," Hughes said.
And with so much talent in-house, a routine practice often took on the intensity of a training session at an elite facility.
"It was an honor to play on such a good team," said Gates, who followed older brothers Riley ('08) and Tommy ('09) to Mount St. Joseph. "It was like a fight everyday in practice because we were all on the same level."
Gates said that he always knew he would attend Mount St. Joseph growing up, and then he found out that Bishop, his childhood friend, would also be attending. But it was when the class of 2013 — Portner, Tristan Boustany and Crawford — arrived that they realized something special was happening.
"That's when we knew that we could be a pretty good team," Gates said.
Still, the Gaels did not skate through the season without a challenge. In late March, they traveled to Louisville for the Deco Turf High School Team Championships, an invitational featuring some of the top teams east of the Mississippi River. There, Mount St. Joseph defeated the North Carolina and Georgia state champions, and placed seventh out of 16 teams.
While the Gaels will return many talented players next season, including five of their top seven, Hughes says that duplicating this year's dominance will be a tall order, even with the addition of several talented freshmen.
"We're going to be very good next year but losing Kevin Gates and Matt Bishop will certainly hurt," he said. "There have been some great teams and great individual players (in the MIAA over the years) but I don't think there's ever been a team as deep as this one ... it is a team that comes along once every 50 years."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun