Between 1974 — when the first City League girls tennis championship was contested — and 2008, 35 titles were won or shared.
None of them went to Central Catholic.
But, in the final two seasons of CL play before the majority of the league begins competing in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, the Irish gave their own example of the phrase, “Better late than never.”
Last Sunday, Central went out in style, winning its second straight City championship by sweeping all five finals matches against one of the CL's two perennial powers, Notre Dame.
Sisters Morgan Delp, a senior, and Sydney Delp, a junior, led the Irish by repeating their City titles at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively. Senior Anna Scherting was victorious at No. 3 singles.
In doubles play, the team of senior Maria Mitchell and Shannon O'Hearn also claimed their second titles, moving up from a No. 2 doubles crown last season to No. 1 this year.
Completing the sweep were the No. 2 doubles team of senior McKenna Hunter and junior Lexi Brown.
Lisa Bialorucki, a 1980 Central graduate and former Irish player, is in her 10th season as head coach. When asked her thoughts on the program's emergence and second straight CL title, Bialorucki pointed to one area with special pride.
“It's seeing how they've grown and matured with their confidence,” Bialorucki said. “They're such a different team than last year. It's been good to see them grow as young adults.
Irish junior Sydney Delp is 18-1 this season and won the City League No. 2 singles title for the second year in a row.
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Six of the seven current regulars were starters on the 2009 CL title team.
“Morgan Delp has been a great leader on the team,” Bialorucki said. “Anna Scherting has worked very hard, and Sydney Delp pushes the girls. She has that personality, and she has a team concept. She pushes the other girls to make them better.”
How big was Central's climb?
Putting things in perspective, Notre Dame had won or shared 19 of the previous 35 City team titles, and St. Ursula had won or shared 14. Not since 1978 and 1979, when Bowsher won back-to-back CL titles, had someone other than Notre Dame or St. Ursula claimed a championship.
If this season had a defining moment, it came in a team meeting after the Irish had lost dual matches to eventual Northern Lakes League champion Perrysburg, and to New Albany. That's when the players defined roles for themselves and established goals for the remainder of the season.
After the City League tournament, the Delp sisters each held 18-1 match records, and Scherting's mark stood at 21-1. Mitchell and O'Hearn were 17-3 together in doubles, and Brown and Hunter 16-3.
“Coming in as a freshman I never expected us to grow so much as a team and do so well,” Morgan Delp said. “It's been the best experience I could ever ask for. Just to see everyone improve, and see us come from a team that's not usually thought of as a threat to dominating the league.”
Scherting, who transferred from Notre Dame after her freshman year, has had a unique perspective on the growth of Central tennis.
“I feel blessed just to be a part of this program, and what we've achieved the past two years,” Scherting said. “No one really thought of Central as a competitor in the [local] tennis world. Everyone thought of Notre Dame and St. Ursula, and here comes Central. We won the City two years in a row.
“The Delps are great leaders, but it takes more than two players to win the City League. It takes a whole team, and we're all committed. Everyone helps everyone else out.”
Central's four senior players helped the program exit the City League on top, and its three juniors now hope to carry that momentum into the TRAC.
“Our big goal was to win the last City championship,” Sydney Delp said. “Our [current] seniors wanted to instill a legacy for the Central Catholic tennis program. That's a legacy we all want to continue.
“In past years, younger players coming up [from eighth grade] used to always think, ‘OK, I'll go to St. Ursula or Notre Dame for tennis.' I think we've kind of changed that mind set and hopefully inspired some other players to look at Central as a tennis school.”
Anna Scherting, left, talks with the doubles team of Maria Mitchell, center, and Shannon O'Hearn following a match. Scherting is 21-1 in singles. Mitchell and O'Hearn have a 17-3 record.
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The Delps have been playing tennis — much of it on opposite sides of the net — since shortly after they were first able to hold a racket. They have always been competitive, but also respectful and helpful with one another.
“I give a lot credit to [Sydney] in making me the player I am today,” Morgan said. “Our styles are different, so we can challenge each other to improve on our weaknesses.
“When we play singles it's always positive. It's always close, friendly competition. She's a good sport about it.”
“The pressure's on [Morgan], so I'm just happy when I win points or games off of her,” said Sydney, who is 16 months younger than her sister. “She pushes me to be better, and it's really just more of a blessing than anything.
“It's a built-in practice partner for me, but the No. 1 reason she's been so helpful to me is her mental toughness. I look at her as a role model. She is so solid, and that's something that I admire.”
Keeping with the team theme in the City League, the Delp sisters now hope to go out on top in tournament play together.
Just as they have the previous two seasons, they now switch to doubles competition in the hope of reaching the Division I state tourney for a third straight year.
“I think we both feel a sense of urgency this year,” Morgan Delp said of tourney play, which begins with sectionals this week. “This is our last chance together. Our main goal is to just go out there and give our all.
“Last summer we played in a lot off doubles tournaments together, so that gave us a lot of experience. And, throughout our season now, we've been slowly working in doubles drills and practice matches.”
The Delps parents, Cleves (baseball, football) and Kathy (tennis) are both Central graduates.
The Delp sisters won their first-round match at state in Division I doubles in both 2008 and 2009, then lost in the quarterfinals.
More is anticipated in their final high school tennis trek together.
“They've been to state twice, and my goal for them is to play on Saturday [semifinals and finals] and hopefully win the thing,” Bialorucki said. “They need to play their best game.
“Sydney is a good doubles player and has a very aggressive style. Morgan has to serve well and use her ground strokes to set up Sydney, and she can take over at the net. They need to work well together and set each other up.”
“Our mind set is to go all the way and try to make it to the last match, and give it everything we've got,” Morgan said. “That's what I'm expecting us to do.”
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461.