Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 18, 2012

Menlo's Chan takes a shot at some history

by Keith Peters

There have been undefeated players and undefeated teams, squads that won Central Coast Section titles and NorCal championships. The Menlo School boys' tennis program pretty much has done it all.

Well, not quite. There's something still left undone.

Menlo senior Justin Chan, however, can take care of that this weekend when he and his teammates take their 25-0 record into the CIF NorCal Championships at Natomas Racquet Club in Sacramento.

The Knights have a bye into the second round on Friday and will open against the winner of Lowell (San Francisco) and Orland at 1 p.m. A victory will move Menlo into the semifinals on Saturday at 11:30 a.m., against either Davis or Monte Vista (Danville).

The championship match is scheduled for 2 p.m., with Bellarmine being the likely opponent.

Chan is three victories away from accomplishing something unique to Menlo tennis — trying to become the first starter on four straight CCS and NorCal championship teams. Non-starter Zach Chase is the team's only other senior.

Chan also can be a part of the best four-year record in school history (110-3) should the Knights win NorCals. That would top the 95-4 mark from 1997-2000, which marked coach Bill Shine's first four seasons at Menlo.

A 28-0 finish also would mark the third unbeaten season in program history, in addition to equaling the most single-season victories — established last year when the Knights went 28-1.

"Last year was a little disappointing," Chan said of the 28-1 mark. "We have high standards."

Menlo's only setback a year ago came in the finals of the All-American National Invitational in Newport Beach. The Knights avenged that defeat by winning the tournament this spring, allowing a potential perfect season to continue.

"Bill says 'you haven't won anything until the season is over,' " Chan reminded. "We have to take every one seriously."

That's the focus this weekend as Menlo goes after its ninth NorCal title since winning the inaugural event in 1999. The Knights hadn't won more than two straight NorCal events until Chan arrived on campus for the 2008-09 season.

"He was a scrawny little kid who needed a lot more strength in his game," Shine recalled of Chan's freshman season. "To see him turn into the player he has is really rewarding."

Chan was destined to be a Knight. His cousins, Nancy and Marilyn Mock, played for Shine on the Menlo girls' team in the late 1990s.

"He (Chan) used to come out here and whack the ball around at age 7," Shine remembered. "I was just hoping he'd be as good as Nancy — he's surpassed that."

And now he's on the threshold of making a little history, something Shine informed him of early in the season.

"He (Shine) told me on a ride home," Chan recalled. "It was a very cool feeling, that I'm the senior who can make history."

Chan, however, looks at the honor from a team point of view.

"We're the best in history so far," he said of the current four-year stretch. "All the great (Menlo) players haven never done what we have. But, it won't last forever."

If next year's Menlo team goes 28-0, it would pass Chan's accomplishments with five straight CCS and NorCal titles and the best four-year record in school history (111-1). Five current junior starters — Andrew Ball, Richard Pham, Daniel Morkovine, William Boyd and Michael Hoffman — will attempt to do that.

All five had a big hand in helping Menlo remain perfect, following an 11-7 victory over Bellarmine in the CCS team finals last Friday at Courtside Club in Los Gatos.

It was the Knights' fourth straight section title and 11th overall, the most in CCS tennis history.

"It's always exciting when you win," Ball said. "It never gets old."

While the win over Bellarmine looked close, it wasn't. In the new three-singles, three-doubles round-robin format, a total of 18 points is possible. When No. the 1 doubles team of Morkovine and sophomore David Ball won their second match of the day, 6-1, Menlo held a 10-1 lead. Pham made it 11-1 moments later with a victory at No. 2 singles.

At that point, Bellarmine coach Tyler Hansbrough wanted to continue, albeit with his reserves, but Shine wanted to end the match in order to protect his players from possible injury with the match already decided. A handful of Knights were also scheduled to play in national tournaments on the weekend.

In order to do that, Menlo forfeited the final six matches and called it a day. It was hot and his players wanted to celebrate.

"It's a lot of fun," Shine said of winning another CCS title." This is a special group, one that's making its own history."

Against Bellarmine, Andrew Ball won both his No. 1 singles matches as did Pham at No. 2 and Chan at No. 3. David Ball and Morkovine were 2-0 at No. 1 doubles and freshman Vikram Chari and Victor Pham were 2-0 at No. 3. Menlo's only loss on the court was a 7-5 setback by the No. 2 tandem of Boyd and Hoffman in the opening round. They bounced back to win in the second round, 6-1.

With the victory, a perfect season and Chan's place in history remained in place.

"Yep, he said, "and I'm going to try and fulfill it this weekend."

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