Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 24, 2013

Another historic season

Menlo School sweeps to a fifth straight NorCal championship

by Keith Peters

Bill Shine knows they are coming, just like the onset of a cold. It's the postseason blues and they'll hit him any day now.

"It happens every year," Shine said. "It's the postseason blues. I miss the kids."

After 17 seasons with his Menlo School boys' tennis team, one would think Shine would be over such a thing by now. Once you prepare yourself for the inevitable, it should be easy to deal with, right?

Perhaps. But, Shine always has an attachment to his teams and players and this one ranks among the best.

"This senior class has been great to be around, since the first day of their freshman year," Shine said.

Shine ticked off numerous superlatives to describe his 2013 seniors, like talent, camaraderie, commitment . . . "the whole ball of wax. They had fun and they worked hard."

Perhaps the most important trait could be found on the courts.

"They had the uncanny ability to play their best tennis when it counted most," he said.

That was evident last weekend at the CIF Northern California Championships at the Gold River Racquet Club near Sacramento. The Knights blanked Shasta, Monte Vista (Danville) and Serra (in the finals) by 7-0 scores to claim their 10th NorCal title and finish the season at 27-1.

Menlo's fifth-straight title is the most in the 15-year history of the event.

"The way they played in NorCal was really unbelievable," Shine said of his team. "They didn't take anyone for granted."

The Knights ran roughshod over everyone, equally.

"It made my coaching really easy," said Shine, who improved his career record at Menlo to 406-42. "I just sat back and enjoyed it . . . There were a couple matches that were fairly close, but the overall outcome wasn't really in doubt, especially with everyone there."

When Menlo disposed of Serra in the Central Coast Section finals on May 10, the Knights won comfortably without starters Richard and Victor Pham. Both were competing at a Level 2 USTA tournament in Southern California.

Both were on hand for NorCal, which made Menlo all the more unbeatable. Serra (21-3), meanwhile, lost its No. 1 singles player, Sean Talmadge, to illness in the semifinals. That default made him ineligible for the title match.

Appropriately, Menlo's six seniors — Pham, Andrew Ball, Daniel Morkovine, William Boyd, Michael Hoffman and Eric Miller — saw action for a final time.

Pham won at No. 1 singles over Matt Campana, 6-0, default. Ball downed Peter Campana, 6-1, retired. Morkovine teamed with freshman Lane Leschly to post a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7-3) win at No. 1 doubles over Alex Frank and Joey Simpson. Boyd and sophomore Vikram Chari won at No. 2 doubles over brothers Brendan and Gordon Barrows, 6-2, 6-2, and Hoffman joined with Miller at No. 3 doubles for a 6-2, 6-1 win over Aidan Tribble and Rohan Kothari.

The other two singles wins went to sophomore Victor Pham at No. 3 (6-0, 6-0 over Eric Dennis) and sophomore Gunther Matta at No. 4 (6-0, 6-1 over Ryuan Acbay).

The senior class wrapped up a remarkable 110-2 record while becoming the first Menlo class to lose only twice in four years. That group helped the Knights go 27-0 in 2010, 28-1 in 2011, 28-0 in '12 and 27-1 this season.

"This team is unbelievable; I'm still in awe," Shine said. "They truly enjoy each others' company and want to win for the guy standing next to him. These guys played hard and aren't above playing high school tennis. This is a couple months out of the year for them to be on a team and they embrace that."

While Shine loses his super six, he retains an excellent eight in David Ball, Vikram Chari, Clarence Lam, Gabe Morgan, Nathan Safran plus Matta and Pham. Shine also has incoming freshman Mark Ball, the fourth brother in the family.

"Half the team is very experienced," Shine said of next year's squad. "Our singles are very experienced. Doubles is really inexperienced. It will be all new kids. We're going to have a lot of close matches."

Shine said next year's Central California Classic in Fresno likely will tell him a lot about the team's makeup.

"It's just a matter of getting that big match experience," Shine said. "We won't be 10 deep like this year, but we still have a lot of good talent."

The 2014 Knights will have some lofty goals to shoot for, as have teams in past year. Menlo will be shooting for a sixth straight CCS title, which would tie the Knights of 1998-2003 for the most consecutive crowns. A sixth straight NorCal title also would be a first for the program. Menlo also will open the West Bay Athletic League season with a streak of 194 straight league-match wins.

For now, though, Shine will just have to deal with his postseason blues.

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