Editor’s note: Star columnist Greg Hansen is profiling 10 times that Tucson teams beat No. 1. Today: Salpointe Catholic’s state-championship win over top-ranked Phoenix Brophy Prep in 2004.
The state’s official high school tennis records show that Salpointe Catholic finished second in the boys state championships in 1990, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2002.
And you thought the Buffalo Bills — 0-4 in 1990s Super Bowls — wrote the book on exasperation.
Salpointe’s boys tennis teams were buffaloed like few teams in Arizona sports history.
“We’d finish second to Brophy Prep what seemed like every year,” remembers John Condes, who was Salpointe’s coach from 1988 until he retired last spring. “People would say ‘you had a great year,’ but, no — no! — they weren’t great years. We lost. Yes, we came close, but it was very frustrating.”
It was so exasperating that when Salpointe showed up for the 1991 state finals in Phoenix, it ran into a Central High School team that — unknown to Salpointe and the Arizona Interscholastic Association — used ineligible foreign players in its Nos. 1 and 2 singles positions.
Four months later, after a subsequent investigation, the AIA stripped Central of the state championship. But if you check the AIA online records archives today this is how it lists the 1991 state tennis championships:
The AIA bungled the case so badly that it didn’t order a new trophy and present it to Salpointe. It still hasn’t changed the record book.
“It turns out Central had two or three guys who were 21-year-old tennis players from Spain,” says Condes. “It was just out of control.”
The Lancers then ran into an even more formidable obstacle. Phoenix Brophy Prep won eight consecutive state championships from 1996-2003, beating Condes’ team in the finals in five of those years. Brophy’s winning streak surged past 100 matches.
So when Salpointe showed up for the 2004 state finals, few thought the Lancers would finally break through and win their first state boys tennis title since coach Roland Kotwica’s 1972 team. Brophy was still Brophy.
Condes started a freshman, Peter Zimmer, at No. 1 singles, and sophomore Tommy McGeorge at No. 2 singles.
It didn’t look promising. But Condes, a former tennis player at Santa Rita High School who graduated from the UA and became a math teacher at Salpointe, wasn’t even sure he’d get to coach Zimmer and McGeorge.
“They could’ve gone to school somewhere else; I wasn’t sure about Tommy but I was hopeful we’d get Peter,” he says. “Once they said they were going to attend Salpointe, I knew we’d be good, but you need more than two guys to win a state championship.”
That’s when, after three decades of tennis frustration, the stars aligned for Salpointe.
Freshmen Ian Mordaunt enrolled, followed by C.J. Browning and Michael Baxter, a talented threesome who would round out the top six with returning Patrick Delage.
“I had no clue if Baxter was going to show,” says Condes. “I kind of knew about Mordaunt because his sister was at Salpointe. It just all came together at once. The more I watched Zimmer and McGeorge, I knew we’d be fine.”
But state championship “fine”? Stop Brophy’s dynasty “fine”?
Salpointe was 16-0 entering the state championships. By then, Condes suspected his 2004 team would be the one to finally break through.
“I’d tell the kids ‘you can do this,’” he says now. “We were deep. Tommy and Peter were just outstanding. “
Zimmer, Browning and Baxter won their singles matches against Brophy. McGeorge’s match went three long, nerve-wracking sets before he won. All Salpointe needed was to win one of the three doubles matches to be state champions.
No dummy, Condes put Zimmer and McGeorge in No. 1 doubles. They won so easily, 10-0, that there was no suspense. Brophy’s dynasty was shattered.
“It’s the best team to beat in the state championships,” said McGeorge, whose father, Robin, won the state singles title at Sabino in 1975. “I don’t know if I was expecting it, but I thought we could win.”
What happened next was historic in Arizona prep tennis. Condes led the Lancers to five consecutive state championships, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008.
Their combined regular season record was 98-2.
By the time Condes retired last season, he had won eight state championships — six with the Lancers boys teams and two (1994 and 1996) with Salponte’s girls teams. Condes, who continues to play tennis on a recreational basis, is the head of the Salpointe math department.
Postscript: “The day we beat Brophy in 2004 was the best feeling ever,” Condes says. “To look across the court and see that the life had gone out of Brophy late in the match, well, it was a long time coming.”
Where are they now?: McGeorge, who won the 2005 state singles championship, went on to win 126 matches in a four-year career for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He is a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley in Scottsdale.
Zimmer, a former regular on the Arizona tennis team, became a firefighter/paramedic in Tucson before changing careers. He is now director of family and community at Holy Cross Church.
Baxter graduated from the University of Michigan and is a financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @ghansen711
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