Menlo keeps perfection
After winning national tourney and improving to 13-0,
Knights take aim at completing the 'Triple Crown'
When members of the Menlo boys' tennis team walked off the court Wednesday with an 8-1 nonleague victory over visiting Monte Vista (Danville), the triumph spoke volumes.
First and foremost, it said there would be no letdown following last weekend's huge accomplishment in Newport Beach, where Menlo won the 11th annual National High School All-American Boys Invitational Team Tournament at the Palisades Tennis Club.
The victory over Monte Vista also said that Menlo has the depth to contend with any opponent this season.
And, the win said that the Knights are still on track to make some history this season.
"My guys are playing well," said Menlo coach Bill Shine, in perhaps the understatement of the season. "Our motivation is we're not going to pull a Sacred Heart Prep. We have to win out."
Shine was referring to the 2007 Sacred Heart Prep team that won the All-American tournament in Newport Beach and later captured the then-national championship event in Mason, Ohio. The Gators, however, lost in the Central Coast Section semifinals and saw their nearly perfect season end at 26-1.
The tournament in Ohio was cancelled two years ago and the Newport Beach event since has been sanctioned by the USTA. By winning the two-day, 16-team tournament that attracted teams from Arizona, Idaho, New York, North Carolina and Washington state, Menlo earned the unofficial title of national champion.
Shine, however, put things in perspective for his players.
"I told the kids they can't really validate it unless they go undefeated," Shine said.
Menlo is now 13-0 after Wednesday's victory. Only one boys' team in Menlo history has gone undefeated, the 1999 squad that won CCS and NorCal titles to finish 23-0. That team, however, did not play in the national tourney in Newport Beach. Thus, Shine's current team can accomplish something no other team in CCS history has done — sweep the 'Triple Crown' of prep tennis — All-American, CCS and NorCals.
Shine said the focus is simple for his team.
"It's just keep getting better," he said. "If we do that, we'll go undefeated. They (his players) have this chemistry' they want to win for each other."
They did that Wednesday in impressive fashion as seniors Jamin Ball and Patrick Chase, sophomore Justin Chan plus freshmen Richard Pham, Andrew Ball and Daniel Morkovine all won their singles matches in straight sets. They combined to lose only 17 games between them.
The doubles teams of Brian Peltz-Tim Hoag and Zach Chase-Mac Osborne also were impressive.
Last Saturday, after finishing off top-seeded University (Irvine), 5-3, in the finals of the 11th annual National High School All-American Boys Invitational Team Tournament, the Knights were crowned kings of the prep tennis world.
Nearly as impressive as beating University was Menlo's 5-3 semifinal victory over Saratoga, most likely the Knights' chief competition in CCS this season.
"I feel good going up against anybody now," Shine said. "To beat the No. 1 team (University) in the nation and the defending champion says it all. This is definitely the best achievement of my coaching career."
This is Shine's 31st year of coaching and the 15th at Menlo. While this team already appears to be his best (there's still plenty of season left), it's also very young with two freshmen in the starting lineup that includes only two seniors among the top four singles. The key to this team, aside from its considerable talent, is its depth.
That depth played out in the five singles and three doubles matches each day as Menlo went 4-0. The Knights opened with a 7-1 victory over Beacon School of New York City before downing Beverly Hills High, 6-2, to reach the semifinals against No. 3-seeded Saratoga.
Menlo got a victory at No. 5 singles from freshman Andrew Ball, but lost the next two matches before Pham rallied to win and senior Pat Chase rallied from being down match point to force a tiebreaker and eventually win. Despite trailing early in all three doubles matches, Menlo survived to win twice and wrap up the victory.
Against University, the heavy favorite to defend, Menlo opened play by losing two of the three doubles matches. That meant the Knights had to win at least three of the five singles matches just to tie and hope they had enough games won overall to win the tiebreaker and tournament.
That scenario wasn't needed as Menlo won four of the five singles matches, despite the fact University had two players ranked among the nation's top 10 in their age brackets. The match came down to the final two matches with Chan and Jamin Ball still playing. At that point, Menlo had enough games won to win the tiebreaker and the tourney. All it needed was one victory.
With all eyes on Ball, who was playing on the stadium center court, the senior responded with an 8-5 victory to clinch the title. His teammates rushed onto the court to celebrate, with Chan winning moments later, 8-5, for the final point. Chan also played No. 2 doubles with junior Andrew Carlisle.
"It was fitting that Jamin won it, with him being a senior and on the stadium court," said Shine. "It was pretty exciting. Everyone contributed to the championship . . . It was a total team effort . . . They all had an important role.
"I was very impressed on how they handled everything," Shine said. "They played unbelievably well."
Andrew Ball was the only Menlo players to go 8-0 (four singles, four doubles wins) while Jamin Ball and Chase, who were doubles partners, went 7-1. Jamin Ball, Chase and Pham all earned All-America honors by being named to the all-tournament team. It was Ball's third such honor while Chase and Pham earned their first.
Bellarmine Prep finished fifth in the tourney while Saratoga took third. Both teams will challenge Menlo when the CCS playoffs get under way in early May.