by Tom Utescher

After winning their fifth straight league crown, members of the La Salle High School tennis team pose with the 2011 Philadelphia Catholic League championship plaque.

It doesn’t have the highest profile among La Salle High School sports teams, but in recent years the Explorers’ tennis program has been one of the most successful.

In the Philadelphia Catholic League finals last Tuesday, La Salle swept St. Joseph’s Prep, 5-0, to claim its fifth straight PCL crown, and its seventh over the last eight seasons. The triumph in the championship match (played at La Salle University) gave the squad a record of 11-0 in league play, and 17-0 overall. Non-league victories include wins over defending Friends Schools League champion Friends Central and over Penn Charter, which was sitting second in the Inter-Ac at the end of the first week of May.

La Salle carries a large varsity team roster of 17 players, and nine of them hold rankings in the USTA Middle States section.

“The school’s academic reputation attracts a lot of the boys,” noted coach Bill Geiger, a teacher in the language department at La Salle. “I think the success of the tennis team encourages new players by word-of-mouth; our boys tell their friends about the team and about the school.”

The Explorers made a 9-0 run through the PCL regular season, winning all their matches 5-0 with the exception of a 4-1 outcome against Roman Catholic on a day when sophomore number one Christian Lutschaunig did not play. In the playoff semifinals, La Salle breezed past Cardinal O’Hara, 5-0, advancing to meet the Prep in the PCL championship bout.

Lutschaunig, seventh in the Middle States rankings in the 16’s division, dispatched Prep number one Grant Boyle, 6-0, 6-2. In the other singles slots, junior Brian Stefanowicz took two 6-1 sets from Brendan Phillips, and number three Andrew Wilt, a senior, shut out the Hawks’ Luke Schlegel, 6-0, 6-0.

At first doubles, seniors Rich Danze and Harry Bonet bounced Anthony Mastrocola and Mike Barton, 6-0, 6-1, and in the second pairing sophomore R.J. Napolitano, a sophomore transfer from Germantown Academy, joined up with freshman Kyle Vo to vanquish Prep’s Dan Bradley and Dan Convery, 6-0, 6-0.

In PIAA matches, where two more doubles flights are contested, La Salle’s third duo consists of sophomores Mitch Abramo and Mike O’Connor, while junior Eric Schultz (also a swimming standout) plays fourth doubles along with sophomore John Neufeld.

Danze, who will attend Florida Gulf Coast University next year, is team co-captain along with fellow senior Jerry Bellettieri, who’s bound for Penn State. Wilt will remain local at Villanova, and Bonet has chosen the University of Scranton, where he plans to continue his tennis career.

Next up for the Explorers is the PIAA District 12 tournament, where they lost to Central High School in 2009 and got revenge last year by beating the Lancers. In the 2010 state tournament the young La Salle team was knocked out in the first round by Conestoga High School, the second seed out of District 1.