On the schedule, the Monta Vista-Menlo School girls' tennis match on Wednesday was just a nonleague affair. Actually, it was much more than that.
For the youthful Knights, with two freshmen and two sophomores holding down the singles spots, the annual showdown with the Matadors provided a solid tuneup for the postseason.
"Monta Vista probably will be seeded No. 2 for CCS, behind Saratoga, with Mitty No. 3 and us No. 4," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "We showed our youth today, but hopefully we can get them in CCS."
The Knights (14-5) showed they belong among the top four teams in the section, and perhaps even have a shot at making the finals, after dropping a 4-3 decision on their home courts.
"It was a really, really close match," Shine said. "I thought we could take one more doubles match, but, it was good all around."
Menlo freshman pushed Monta Vista's No. 1 player, who is ranked No. 1 in NorCal for 18s, before dropping a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 match. Menlo sophomore Laura Gradiska lost at No. 4 singles, 6-1, 6-3, but freshmen Kristy Jorgensen and Christine Eliazo earned a split in singles with victories.
Jorgesen cruised to a 6-4, 6-2 triumph while Eliazo held on for a 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 10-6 victory. Both players impressed Shine with their play.
Menlo needed to win two doubles matches, but got only a a 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 10-7 victory from Jackie Fancher and Stephanie Carlisle at No. 2. Lauren Robinson and Paulina Golikova won their first set at No. 3 doubles, but then dropped the next two while Eliza Adams and Saga Shermis were swept at No. 1.
The close loss and last weekend's performance at the National Invitational in Newport Beach gives Shine reason to believe his team will be competitive once again in the CCS tournament. The Knights went 2-2 in Southern California and finished sixth out of 24 teams. Menlo defeated Capistrano Valley (8-0) and Iolani of Hawaii (5-3) but lost to Corona Del Mar (6-2) and a very good Peninsula High team, 7-1. The teams played eight-point pro sets with five singles and three doubles matches.
"I think it was a very good experience for them, because we're so young," Shine said.
Menlo returns to West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) action on Thursday at Notre Dame-San Jose, and should win handily. That will put the Knights in position to clinch the division title on Tuesday at Sacred Heart Prep, which helped Menlo by beating second-place Harker on Tuesday, 4-3.
Menlo is shooting for a 17th straight league title, dating to 1994. Should the Knights finish the division season undefeated -- Menlo hosts Harker next Thursday to finish the regular season -- they'll be 178-0 in league dual matches since losing the final match of the 1993 season.
Shine reached a milestone with his team this week when the Knights blanked Pinewood on Tuesday, 7-0. The victory was his 350th at Menlo in 15 years (against 59 losses).
While Menlo is moving closer to keeping its remarkable winning streak alive, Menlo-Atherton saw its three-year reign atop the PAL Bay Division end in a 5-2 loss to first-place Burlingame on Wednesday.
The Bears (8-3, 10-5) needed a victory and then hope for the Panthers to lose their final two matches in order to win the regular-season title and earn an automatic berth into the CCS playoffs. Now, M-A will have to qualify out of the PAL Tournament.
Castilleja (9-1) earned at least a share of a fourth straight WBAL Foothill Division title following a 223-275 victory over Menlo School on Wednesday at the par-37 Palo Alto Muni layout.
The Gators likely will finished tied with Sacred Heart Prep, which upset the Gators on Monday and closes out its regular season against beatable Harker on Thursday. SHP will get the league's automatic berth in the CCS tournament, while Castilleja has to earn an at-large berth at the WBAL Tournament next Wednesday at Poplar Creek Golf Course in San Mateo.
Castilleja senior Brenna Nelsen fired a 2-under 35 to earn medalist honors. It was her second sub-par round of the week after shooting a 35 against SHP on Monday at Sharon Heights. Nelsen had three birdies and a bogey.
Fellow senior Sarah Debs checked in with a 43, despite trying to reach No. 9 in two and hitting it out of bounds. She had four pars, including a great save on the par-3 8th. Sophomore Taylor Wilkinson shot 46, which included a sand save on No. 5 while senior Stephanie Merenbach had a 49. Freshman Caroline Debs wrapped up the scoring with a 50, while Menlo was led by Gabby Girard's 49.
Castilleja bounced back from consecutive losses to defeat visiting Harker, 25-22, 25-18, 25-22, in a WBAL Foothill Division match on Wednesday. The Gators (3-3, 24-5) got 13 kills from both Laura Rose and Hannah Boland and 37 assists from Hannah Hsieh.
At Serra High, Menlo School fell back into the pack after dropping a 25-9, 25-20, 25-23 decision to defending champion Mercy-Burlingame. Mercy (5-0, 18-6) went 10-0 in the WBAL last season and introduced nine seniors prior to the match -- using all nine in its 10-player rotation.
Menlo (3-2, 16-8), on the other hand, had three freshmen in its starting lineup and it showed. The Knights got off to a slow start before rallying to have chances in Games 2 and 3. The Crusaders, however, had too much experience.
Freshman Maddie Huber led Menlo with seven kills and six digs while sophomore Drew Edelman added five kills while hitting .455. Freshman Melissa Cairo had a team-high nine digs.