Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 14, 2010

A shot at making history

Menlo boys on pace to accomplish something unprecedented in sport

by Keith Peters

Bill Shine would like to keep the pressure off his Menlo School boys' tennis team. He'd like to have the next match seems like every one before it. Truth is, however, it's not.

While the Knights have won eight Central Coast Section titles since 1998, the next one will be the biggest.

Should the top-seeded and defending champion Knights (23-0) defeat the No. 2-seeded Falcons (22-3) on Friday in the section finals at Courtside Club in Los Gatos at 2 p.m., Menlo's ninth crown will tie Gunn as the all-time section champion.

The Titans won a record seven straight and nine of 10 from 1972-81 while setting the standard for excellence in CCS boys' tennis. Now, Menlo has a chance to join the ranks of the all-time best — and in more ways than one.

Among the Knights' string of victories this season are four from winning the unofficial national title at the 11th annual National High School All-American Boys Invitational Team Tournament in Newport Harbor in March.

"To claim that you're the national champ, as unofficial as it is, you need to be the champion of your section," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "I think we have probably the strongest section in the nation."

Should Menlo win on Friday, it most likely will have to duplicate the feat at the NorCal Championships on May 21-22 in Oakley. There are rumors, however, that Saratoga won't be at full strength for NorCals, due to a national age-group tournament in Sacramento the same weekend.

Thus, a win on Friday appears to be a ticket to the NorCal title, a 27-0 record (best in school history) and bragging rights to being the best team in the nation.

"This is probably the biggest match in Menlo tennis history," Shine said.

No pressure, of course.

"You've got to win these matches," Shine said of CCS and NorCals. "We have to win both."

The difficult task is beating Saratoga a third straight time. A fourth straight time might be a moot point, depending on the Falcons' personnel at NorCals. Saratoga has improved each time since facing. Shine also believes he may see a different lineup than in the previous two meetings.

"Maybe it's a compliment, that they're doing everything they can to beat us," Shine said. "I'm not going to change anything; it's been going too good."

Things were as perfect as they could be for Menlo until Wednesday when Menlo senior Jamin Ball took ill before his match with Paly sophomore Nicky Hu. Ball hung tough, but dropped the first set 6-3. Menlo had the victory locked up at that point and defaulted. It was Palo Alto's lone victory in the 6-1 semifinal loss. Earlier in the day, Saratoga dismantled No. 3 Bellarmine, 7-0.

"Menlo is just too talented and too deep," said Paly coach Andy Harader, who said he was just happy to be in the semifinals after upsetting No. 4 St. Ignatius on Tuesday in San Francisco.

"I was surprised we won yesterday, so it's good to be here," Harader said. "Plus we got a shot at the No. 1 team in the country."

Harader attempted to win some points in doubles by moving some of his top singles players there, but Menlo's Justin Chan and Andrew Carlisle won at No. 1 doubles, 6-0, 6-0, while the teams of Daniel Morkovine-Kyle Sum and Jonathan Katzman-Brian Peltz lost only a combined four games between them.

Patrick Chase, who won easily at No. 2 singles (6-2, 6-0), is one of only three seniors who played Wednesday. Ball and Peltz were the others. Richard Pham, one of three freshmen who played against Paly, was perfect at No. 3 singles, 6-0, 6-0, as was fellow freshman Andrew Ball at No. 4. Morkovine is the other first-year player. The Knights feature five, all of whom have contributed to the team's success.

That, in itself, has to be a little frustrating for Harader, who will lose eight seniors off this team. Thus, he'll savor this year's accomplishments as long as he can.

"We had no expectations this season," said Harader, "and we did really well."

Menlo, on the other hand, had big expectations once the national invitational title was won. That put the Knights in position to accomplish something that no other high school tennis team in Northern California has done — win that unofficial title and finish the season unbeaten.

Menlo is now just four victories away from doing just that. The team's next win, however, will be the toughest — and probably the biggest.

"That's why I think this match will be the match," said Shine.

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