Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 23, 2010

Courting success once more

M-A boys closing in on perfect regular season after another PAL title

by Keith Peters

In his 10 years as either head or co-coach of the Menlo-Atherton boys' tennis team, Carlos Aguilar has enjoyed various levels of success — from winning PAL Bay Division titles to reaching the Central Coast Section playoffs.

Last season, for example, the Bears went 14-0 to win the Bay Division title and advanced to the CCS quarterfinals before falling and finishing 17-5. M-A has reached the postseason six times since 2001 and is headed there again.

"The players are so motivated for CCS!" Aguilar said.

Should the Bears finished off a perfect league season this week, they'll be 26-0 in the PAL over back-to-back seasons.

However, it's hard to compare what M-A has done recently with the success enjoyed by programs like Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep. Those teams have won CCS, NorCal and even unofficial national titles.

Thus, Menlo-Atherton's success has to be measured differently.

"I would say a CCS berth is a successful year," Aguilar said. "That sounds ambitious, but the program has really grown over the years. The talent and depth has really improved. We used to have a couple of fulltime players, as most, and the rest were multiple-sport athletes who played seasonally and got better as the season wore on. The joke was, look out for M-A in the second half of the season, and it was true."

Based on record alone, this is best team that Aguilar and co-coach Tom Sorenson have had in the past 10 years. The Bears are 16-0 after topping visiting Sacred Heart Prep on Monday, 5-2, in a nonleague match and then beating host Woodside on Tuesday, 5-2, to wrap up a second straight PAL Bay Division crown.

The Bears were rained out of their scheduled match at Gunn on Wednesday, but were heavily favored to topple visiting Half Moon Bay on Thursday to complete a second straight unbeaten league season.

"With league titles the last two years and going undefeated in league and perhaps undefeated in the regular season this year, all I can say is it's unbelievable!" remarked Aguilar.

Menlo-Atherton has a makeup match scheduled for Monday against St. Francis at Cuesta Park in Mountain View and could play Gunn on Tuesday. Those are the only two teams standing in the way of a 19-0 regular season for M-A.

"The kids and their families have all supported and worked so hard to make the program what it is today," Aguilar said. "Tom and I don't do anything different than we've ever done. The expansion, renovation and improvements of the facilities are thanks to parents and their contributions, both financial and with their time and resources.

"I do hope that the philosophy Tom and I have from a no-cut policy, our experience and achievements on and off the court — to the extent to which we really care about the kids as people and their maturation in tennis and life, not making it all about winning — has helped make M-A an attractive place to come to play tennis."

Aguilar can speak firsthand about where M-A tennis has been and where it is now because he played for the Bears in the early 1970s.

"I've had the opportunity to give back to a school and program that gave so much to me," Aguilar said. "I barely made the team as a sophomore, playing doubles. The thought that I would ever be No. 1 at M-A (which he was), play at Cal (which he did) or make it to the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon would have been inconceivable to me in 1971."

Sorenson joined Aguilar as a co-coach seven years ago and the two have worked together since then. Aguilar has been able to coach his two sons on the tennis team and now has a junior daughter in school.

This season certainly has to be one of the more enjoyable for both coaches. The win over Sacred Heart Prep, in fact, was an important yardstick for M-A because Palo Alto, Gunn and Menlo all have done it this season — giving the Bears a level of expectation.

"They know what they are capable of, although other than the four seniors we are all sophs and freshmen," Aguilar said. "So, our youth and experience shows. But, if we're hitting on all cylinders, we are awfully tough — maybe not Menlo tough, but very tough against anyone else!"

M-A was pretty tough on Monday. Zeke Brown and Matt Giordano posted a 6-2, 6-4 victory at No. 1 doubles, twins Jesse and Christian Perkins produced a 6-2, 6-4 win at No. 2 and Matt Menninger teamed with Richie Sarwall at No. 3 for a 6-2, 6-2 victory. Alec Haley and Alden Mitchell also won in straight sets at the top of the singles ladder.

The victory over Woodside on Tuesday moved the Bears to 11-0 in the PAL. Should M-A beat St. Francis (and Gunn, if they play) next week, the perfect season would be one of the greatest achievements in program history. The No. 1 highlight came in 1985 when the Bears won the school's only CCS team championship in the sport.

It must be noted that M-A didn't face local rivals Menlo or Palo Alto this season like in previous years. However, Menlo-Atherton has beaten everyone it has faced — no matter what the level of competition. Like other teams, the Bears have battled through illness and injury and juggled lineups while still finding a way to win. That in itself says a lot about this year's team that features three seniors among singles (Haley, Mitchell and Avinash Shah) plus two all-sophomore doubles teams (Giordano and Brown plus the Perkins twins).

It's a lineup that Aguilar says is his most versatile yet with plenty of interchangeable parts — all of which have worked well together this season.

Speaking of working well, Menlo got in a match and a practice session following a 7-0 blanking of host Crystal Springs on Tuesday to close the West Bay Athletic League regular season for the Knights.

Menlo wrapped up the league with a 12-0 record and remained perfect overall at 19-0 following the quick match that was contested in eight-game pro sets. The match was over so fast that the Knights were able to practice upon returning home.

Menlo, which had its scheduled match with Mission San Jose on Wednesday cancelled, next will host the WBAL Individual Tournament on Monday and Tuesday (finals around 2:30 p.m.) before visiting Saratoga on April 29 for a nonleague match to close the regular season. That showdown will pit the top two teams in the Central Coast Section while providing a preview to the upcoming CCS playoffs.

In the SCVAL De Anza Division, host Gunn nearly pulled off a mild upset before rain and slick courts halted the match with the Titans holding a 3-2 lead. Play will resume on Monday at Gunn at 4 p.m.

The two matches that need to finish are No. 2 and 3 singles. Gunn's Bharat Reddy is locked in a battle at No. 2 with Drew Pearson, who won the first set 7-6 but is trailing in the second, 4-3. Gunn's Clifton Wolak is leading Chase Cooper at No. 3 singles, 7-6, 3-0 and stands to be the deciding match barring a comeback by Chase.

Gunn came into the showdown on a seven-match winning streak and stands at 7-4 in league (13-6 overall). Palo Alto is 8-2 (13-4) with only the resumption of the Gunn match and a finale at first-place Saratoga on Thursday left on the league schedule.

Figuring Saratoga tops Paly for a second time this season, Gunn could tie the Vikings for second place with a victory on Monday.

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