McDonogh's girls tennis team has won so many straight Association of Independent Schools matches that even coach Diane Young has lost count.
"It's probably about 80," said Young, whose team has not lost an AIS match since the spring of 1989 although it did drop two matches along the way to a team from Lawrenceville, N.J.
This fall, the Eagles (11-0) beat Lawrenceville and had not lost so much as a set to any opponent until Wednesday when they lost two in a 5-0 victory over previously unbeaten Bryn Mawr.
Mawrtians senior Heather Brownley said just the thought of facing the Eagles intimidates opponents.
"It's that whole mystique of them winning every year," said Brownley, whose team came close to ending the streak, falling, 3-2, the last two years. "It's that pressure that you put on yourself. Then you buckle under the pressure and end up losing, so it starts all over again."
While the pressure opponents feel certainly fuels the dynasty, Young's secret to success is no secret at all. It's a combination of good coaching, good players and good connections.
In 16 years at McDonogh, Young has developed most of her talent and depth through a strong middle school program.
Only two of the current Eagles came to McDonogh as freshmen, No. 1 singles player Vicki Brick and last year's No. 1 Stacy Eyth, who now plays doubles. No. 2 singles player Heather Cole, as well as doubles players Shireen Santosham, Leena Krishnaswamy, Stephanie Rosen, Bana Hajj, Ellen Haller, Melissa Blume and Lauren Cohn, all came through the co-ed middle school program.
"By the time you come up to the JV and varsity level, you're already prepared and you're playing at a higher standard," said team captain Santosham, who had competed in about 40 matches before she reached the junior varsity.
Garrison Forest coach Kim Marlor has watched Young double archrival Garrison's longest unbeaten streak (1985-1989).
"Diane lives tennis," said Marlor. "She's a real technician in the sport. She expects her kids to bring the skills to the game and she spends time developing the strategy."
Young has a great rapport with her players, who turn out to cheer her at weekend club matches. "There's a lot of obvious respect and admiration with her team. That's the greatest compliment a coach can get," said Marlor.
Young, who played college tennis at Albright in Reading, Pa., also has a lot of connections in junior tennis and that certainly helps attract players. She first played tennis with Cole when she was 10 and with Brick when she was 11.
"I was friends with them for a long time then they decided to come to McDonogh, not that I'm pushing," said Young. "I never pushed Vicki. I think my association with area coaches helps and I think the school attracts kids. We've been very lucky."
Through the years, McDonogh has had some outstanding No. 1 singles players. Danielle Dilloff started the streak, followed by Julie Diaz, Shani Dilloff, Eyth and Brick, the top-seeded singles player when the AIS Tournament begins tomorrow.
At 14, Brick has three years of junior tennis experience and is ranked fifth in the state at 16-and-under. Her AIS opponents cannot match her experience and court sense, said Bryn Mawr's Sara Barnett, who suffered her first defeat, 6-2, 6-2, to Brick.
While Brick said she felt the pressure early on, she doesn't think much about the streak anymore. In fact, the Eagles said the pressure to keep the streak alive has become positive motivation.
"It definitely gives us confidence," said Santosham, "because we know when we go out, we're going to intimidate our opponents. It's not cockiness. It's just confidence."