TRAVERSE CITY – A 26-year process is nearing full circle for the Traverse City St. Francis girls tennis team.
The program has steadily grown from its humble beginnings as a co-ed team and spread its reach to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School and Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools elementary schools.
Now, in addition to their youth programs, the Gladiators have two varsity lineups and a JV squad.
“Originally, when I came here almost 10 years ago, there was no middle school program, and the programs were really starting to pick up and develop,” said coach Paul Bandrowski, who also coaches the St. Francis boys program. “I started first with the middle school program, and we grew it from a few kids to now we have about 70 kids in middle school playing tennis.
“It is tremendously exciting… It’s been built on the backs of a lot of people that have dedicated their time, like Annie Murphy and Jeff Hughes, and many other coaches that have been around, and I’ve just continued to build on the work that they developed from the last 10-12-14 years.”
The Gladiators made history a year ago in the form of current senior and No. 1 singles player Amanda Bandrowski.
With a straight-set win over Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart’s Jeanne Nash, Bandrowski became the first northern Michigan high school tennis player – male or female – to capture a state championship at No. 1 singles.
In the process, St. Francis posted its best-ever finish (second) in the state finals, falling to Sacred Heart by seven points. It also marked the third consecutive top-three state finish for the Gladiators.
“It was awfully exciting to be able to be a part of the program when Amanda won that state championship,” Paul Bandrowski said. “We’ve never won a state championship at No. 1 singles, and in fact, no one in northern Michigan has ever won a state championship at No. 1 singles… She’s been playing for a lot of years, and in addition to her winning it, it was great, because she helped lead the team to the highest finish we’ve ever had.”
Ranked first in the most recent Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Division 4 rankings, St. Francis has its sights set on becoming the first girls program from northern Michigan to win a team state championship.
“I’ve been with the same group of girls, the same class since about second grade, so we all know what that would mean… to win the team state championship and have one more trophy in that whole line that we have at our school,” Amanda Bandrowski said.
“Any time an elite group of athletes come together, they want to win a state championship,” added Paul Bandrowski. “These guys are motivated to win a state championship. But the reality is we don’t get to decide. We can only control what we can do.
“They’re putting in the time, they’re putting in the work and they’re putting in the effort. So, if that means in the end that we’re put in tough situations, we’re playing harder teams that gets us to a state championship win, fantastic.”
The Gladiators continue their dual season on Thursday, visiting Elk Rapids for Lake Michigan Conference play.
St. Francis will also host a Division 4 regional on Thursday, May 19.