The girls tennis team made school history, defeating Cardinal O’Hara, 3-2

By John Knebels
Sports Columnist

For those out there who needed to take countless hours of lessons and pay an ungodly amount of money for one-on-one instruction before becoming good at the game of tennis, this might be a good time to stop reading.

When Lansdale Catholic senior Katie Gillespie decided to stop playing soccer after her freshman year, she started toying with taking on a sport in which she had never before competed.

“My dad is a tennis player, but other than that, I really didn’t have any background,” Gillespie said. “So I took a couple of lessons the summer before my sophomore year and really started liking it.”

Lansdale Catholic’s tennis team is very grateful for her athletic detour.

On Oct. 14 at Philadelphia’s Arthur Ashe Center, the Crusaders defeated perennial league champion Cardinal O’Hara 3-2 to capture their first-ever Catholic League title in any sport since they left the Pioneer Athletic Conference to join the Catholic League in 2008.{{more}}

Even though Gillespie lost to O’Hara’s Hayley Craskey in straight sets in first singles (second singles junior Ally Fitzpatrick also dropped a three-set decision to Elizabeth McDermott), the Crusaders possessed enough ammunition to hold off the only league team that had defeated them during the regular season.

The first-doubles tandem of seniors Margery Vizza and Sylvia Benniccelli, and second-doubles duet of juniors MaryKate Selby and Emily Boyle, won their matches in straight sets. Meanwhile, junior Nicole Percetti also seized a victory in third singles – coming from one set down to ultimately seal the title.

“I was disappointed to lose, but I still had faith that we would find a way to win as a team,” said Gillespie, a member of Lansdale’s St. Stanislaus Parish. “We already had two wins and knew that if Nicole could win, we would clinch.”

After Percetti’s successful match point, the Crusaders rushed down from the balcony to mob the heroine.

“We just told her how great she is,” Gillespie said. “We couldn’t wait to celebrate.”

LC coach Patti Baron, who after the season (the Crusaders begin PIAA Class AA District 12 play this week) will be stepping down as coach after six seasons, said she was obviously thrilled to finish her tenure in this fashion. Baron wasn’t surprised the match would be decided by a 3-2 score. Her squad had lost to regular-season champ O’Hara by the same margin earlier this year.

“They’re a great team,” Baron said. “It was nice that we played them in the finals because we were the two best teams.”

Baron lauded her players for maintaining composure despite the pressure-packed occasion.

“They did a great job,” she said. “Every one of them played their hearts out.”

According to Gillespie, being a member of Lansdale Catholic’s first-ever Catholic League championship will never be forgotten.

“Any time you win a championship, it’s great,” she said. “You can win a whole bunch in a row and each of them would be terrific. But being a part of the first team to win in a new league is something incredibly special. It’s something the entire community can be proud of.”

Gillespie understands why it might be difficult to believe how she has ascended the local ranks so quickly.

After the aforementioned lessons before her sophomore year, Gillespie made varsity that fall. By the end of her junior year, she was the PIAA Class AA District 12 champion before losing in the first round of states. This year, she finished as the league’s top singles player; before losing in the championship, she had gone undefeated this year against league opponents.

“I play a lot of sports, and I think some things come more naturally to me,” said Gillespie, a diocesan scholar with a 4.0 grade-point average who splits her academic schedule between Lansdale Catholic during the morning and Gwynedd-Mercy College in the afternoon. “I really can’t explain it.”

Gillespie is unsure of where she will attend college and whether or not she will play collegiate tennis. She plans to study nursing.

This winter, she will play basketball for St. Stan’s CYO team and then finish her high school athletic career as a starter on the Crusaders’ lacrosse team.

When she graduates, Gillespie said she will look back over the past four years and be very appreciative.

“I am very grateful that I have been given certain gifts,” Gillespie said. “I feel good that I have tried to use those gifts to the best of my ability instead of letting them go to waste.”

Gillespie’s 18th birthday is March 25.

“The Annunciation,” she said proudly.

Good stuff.

John Knebels can be reached at