Championship day started out strange for the Gilman tennis team last month.
In the regular season, the Greyhounds had their 72-match winning streak ended against upstart Severn. The loss set up a rematch in their quest for a seventh straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.
The crowd was lively, mostly in support of the home team Admirals, who were hopeful for a repeat performance. But the Greyhounds — motivated in a vastly different way from all of their other recent championship seasons — made sure the end of May 13 was more the norm.
This time, the work might have been put in on the road — Gilman claimed a 4-1 win at Severn — but the championship plaque once again ended up in Roland Park.
It was the program’s 27th championship, including 14 Maryland Scholastic Association titles and 13 in the MIAA A Conference. That’s more than any other sport at Gilman; the football program is next with 26.
For nine-year coach Steve Krulevitz, the latest of a lengthy list of coaches that has helped create a standard of excellence, it marked win No. 100 under his watch.
This year’s championship was special in more ways than one. With COVID-19 canceling the 2020 season, only one of the 11 players that made varsity this spring had played in the MIAA playoffs — top doubles ace and captain Jai Kukreja.
Despite the extended time between the team’s sixth and seventh straight titles, Krulevitz found no lapse in the team’s commitment to winning.
“I just felt like the team really wanted to be a part of what was going on with the tennis program, wanting to set the record for the program with most championships,” he said. “They really thrived in just wanting to carve out their niche, their own little piece of the pie to say they made their contribution to the program.”
In the championship win, Kukreja and partner Andrew Brinckerhoff opened with a victory to set the tone. The winning lineup included Rohan Milak at No. 1 singles, Andrew Hannan at No. 2, Ben Cordish at No. 3 and Luca Pavlovich teaming with Johannes Qian at No. 2 doubles.
For many who have been a part of the monumental success the program has enjoyed, the foundation is camaraderie. Teammates support each other, push each other and are reminded of the long-standing success every time they pass the school’s trophy case.
With the inexperience and early-season injuries, Kukreja said this year’s journey was a significant test — the regular-season loss to Severn serving as a vital reboot — and the end reward even more satisfying.
“The loss definitely pushed us to work harder in practice and made it better to help us find out each others’ strengths and flaws, so we could be the best possible versions of ourselves,” he said. “The win definitely felt so much better knowing that it was a tough, hard-fought victory.
“The standard is set pretty high. We expect to win pretty much every time we go out and with the history of winning so much, it sort of puts an added pressure. But it also forces us to take everything serious because we know how much is at stake with so many titles before us.”
By the end of championship day, Severn coach Cathy Officer, whose Admirals made an incredible leap from the B Conference with instant success this spring, had a clear picture of Gilman’s tennis legacy.
“I was proud of the way our team competed against Gilman, but Gilman showed a lot of poise and class at the end of the day,” Officer said. “You can tell why they’ve won so many championships because they expect to win. That’s their mantra — they expect to win and they did not like losing to us. It’s very impressive.”
Gilman began its tennis program in 1913 with conference play taking place down the road. The Greyhounds claimed their first MSA championship in 1958.
One successful coaching run followed another.
From 1946 to 1963, Roy Barker posted a 100-56 mark, with Eric Jacobsen guiding the Greyhounds to a 12-0 season in 1962 when Barker was on hiatus. Bruce Daniels went 161-29 from 1964 to 1981 with a string of four MSA titles in the midst of his tenure. Jim Busick took over in 1982 and went 284-60-3 in a 33-year run before Krulevitz (100-15-1) took over the program with the unprecedented run of seven straight crowns.
The last three coaches all played at the professional level — Krulevitz competed in 32 Grand Slam events and reached No. 42 in the world. Equally important, all were educators, with the first three on Gilman’s faculty and Krulevitz dedicated to teaching tennis since his playing days ended.
Gilman has always been considered a lacrosse school with consistent success also coming in football, baseball and track. While tennis isn’t one of the high-profile sports that gets as much recognition, the program has become a special source of pride within the school. Tim Holley, a 1977 graduate who has served as a teacher, coach, athletic director and now director of external relations at his alma mater, credited the coaches for setting the example.
“They just decided we were going to be excellent in whatever we tried. So they demanded the same kind of rigor in the tennis program even though it isn’t high-profile like lacrosse and there aren’t all these people watching,” he said. “So I think the secret sauce of the tennis program is that it was an extension of the school and we were going to be our best selves and the kids who played tennis and the coaches who coached tennis were going to be as committed to being as excellent as any other activity in the school.”
When Derrick Thompson arrived to Gilman as a freshman in 2015, he estimated being about 5 feet 4 and weighing 120 pounds. He was one of two freshmen with six seniors in the starting lineup.
He was quick to make an impression, and the program left its mark on him.
In the preseason tryouts for lineup positioning, Thompson beat out a returning senior to earn the No. 3 singles spot and went 12-0 that first season. After his father’s job took him to Belgium for his sophomore year, he returned for his final two high school years and went 12-0 in each at No. 1 singles to finish his three-year career as a three-time MIAA A champion with a 36-0 individual mark.
Thompson has continued his success at the Naval Academy, recently completing a fine junior season while studying mechanical engineering. His time in the Gilman program playing for Krulevitz is cherished.
“From Day 1, Steve always makes sure everyone knows your eyes are set on the championship again. After school, you get out there for a couple hours and give it your all. And you make sure that you want to better the person next to you and not just yourself,” he said.
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“In tennis, it’s sort of an individual sport and you’re out there on your own. But at Gilman, you’re a Greyhound, part of the family, so you’re going to help that person next to you and you really do feel like you’re a part of a team sport. For me, that was the first time feeling that way in a tennis environment.”