Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 28, 2010

It's a picture-perfect ending to Menlo's title-winning tennis season

by Keith Peters

At the beginning of each tennis season, Menlo School boys' coach Bill Shine has action pictures taken of his freshmen and puts them aside. Four years later, he gets action shots of the same players as seniors and shows off both sets of photos at the end-of-the-year team banquet.

"I pulled out the freshmen shots of the (current) seniors the other day," Shine said. "What a difference. They were all little boys when they came here and now they're grown young men."

Shine dragged out the "Before and After" photos on Monday night at the team's season-ending function. The players probably got a laugh at the expense of seniors Jamin Ball, Patrick Chase, Brian Peltz, Tim Hoag, Riley Right, Alex Chang and Connor Barnett.

While this is an annual event for Shine, this senior group will always be very special because those players have accomplished something no other Menlo team — or any other squad in Northern California — has done ever before.

The 2010 Knights completed the Grand Slam of prep tennis on Saturday with a 6-1 victory over Saratoga in the CIF Northern California championships at the Natomas Racquet Club in Sacramento. Menlo finished the season at 27-0, the best record in school history, even though the 1999 team went 23-0.

Moreover, the Knights put the finishing touches on a season that included titles at the National Invitational, Central Coast Section and NorCal finals. No other team in Northern California history has ever done that and finished the year unbeaten.

"You can't do better than what we did this year," Shine said. "If you're talking about the best teams in the country, Menlo has to be in that conversation."

Thus, Shine probably will be a little melancholy in the next week or so as the excitement of the unprecedented season wears off. He'll busy himself with the CCS Individual Tournament this week in Aptos, but then the season will end and he'll be left to his memories of the remarkable 2010 campaign.

Shine will be able to look back on the first day of practice, when he welcomed five freshmen to a squad coming off a 27-2 mark in 2009. The Knights would open the season as the defending CCS and NorCal champs.

"We had a lot of new freshmen on the team," Shine recalled. "I remember telling them, 'It looks like we have some potential to do well . . . If we work hard, we might be able to do some good things this year.' "

Shine also made sure he added the importance of just getting better and better every day. He had no idea that the freshmen, and everyone else, would take those words to heart.

"I really underestimated the freshmen," Shine said. "I didn't know that they would turn into such good team players."

Among those five freshmen, Andrew Ball and Richard Pham worked their way into the starting singles lineup and Daniel Morkovine earned himself a starting job at No. 2 doubles. Michael Hoffman and William Boyd made their presence felt, too, as everyone contributed to the team's success.

Ball, Pham and Morkovine all went undefeated during the weekend as Menlo won its seventh NorCal title. The Knights opened on Friday with a 7-0 victory over Lowell (San Francisco) and beat Davis, 7-0, in the semifinals Saturday morning.

When Menlo took on Saratoga in the finals, it was not the same team the Knights had edged, 4-3, in the CCS title match. The Falcons were missing three starters, including their No. 3 and 4 singles players who had beaten their Menlo counterparts at CCS. Also gone was half of their No. 1 doubles team. The missing players reportedly were competing in a USTA event in Sacramento.

A less-than-full-strength Saratoga team was no match for a Menlo squad at full strength. Sophomore Jonathan Katzman teamed with Peltz at No. 3 doubles for a 6-0, 6-0 win and 1-0 lead. Junior Andrew Carlisle and sophomore Justin Chan were next off the court following a 6-0, 6-1 win at No. 1 doubles. Andrew Ball gave Menlo a 3-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-0 victory at No. 4 singles and the No. 2 doubles squad of Morkovine and junior Kyle Sum clinched the title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Jamin Ball, who is headed for Stanford in the fall, wrapped up his prep career with a 6-2, 6-0 thumping of Santa Clara-bound John Lamble. Ball also beat Lamble at CCS to clinch Menlo's victory there.

Pham, Menlo's third freshman starter, closed things out with a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 victory at No. 3 singles. Pham had lost his CCS match to Saratoga's Nikil Jayashankar, who reportedly was off playing at the USTA event instead of being with his team.

"They (Saratoga) didn't have the fight in them," Shine said. "They didn't bring any energy. It was disappointing. It's getting to the point where the CCS Tournament is the big one. That's the one you want to win."

Shine said the bus ride home was "pretty special" because "the guys understood what they had accomplished."

The bar of expectations has been raised to the highest, which leaves only one thing for Menlo in 2011.

"What's next is to do it again," Shine said. "You have new kids. It will be brand new to them. There's always the next challenge."

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