By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
When the Menlo School boys' tennis team put the finishing touches on last season's perfect 27-0 record by winning a seventh NorCal championship, it would have been easy to think that the feat would never happen again.
After all, the Knights won the National All-American Invitational in Newport Beach, a record-tying ninth Central Coast Section crown and another NorCal title.
When the Knights finished second in Newport Beach earlier this season, it showed just how tough it is to repeat such a remarkable season. Then again, Menlo is 16-1 and a heavy favorite to win a record-breaking 10th CCS title and eighth NorCal crown on the way to finishing 26-1.
Menlo coach Bill Shine would not be surprised if that happened, despite the fact he has only two seniors on the team, has two sophomores playing singles -- one at No. 1 -- and two freshmen playing doubles.
The Knights set themselves up for a possible sweep through the remainder by handing visiting Saratoga a 6-1 nonleague loss on a windy Wednesday afternoon.
It was Menlo's second win over the Falcons this season after beating them in the CCS and NorCal finals last season. Menlo also has toppled Bellarmine twice in 2011.
Bellarmine and Saratoga were considered the only teams to give Menlo a battle in CCS this season.
Shine, of course, isn't counting anyone out just yet -- especially Saratoga.
"Even though we've beaten them twice (the other time coming in a Fresno tourney), we still have to bring our best every time out," Shine said.
"It definitely is an advantage (to win twice) but, these are young kids and they (Saratoga) are still a good team.
"My job is to keep them (the Menlo players) hungry, so the next time we play, it will be for a championship."
The latest victory over Saratoga all but wrapped up the No. 1 seed for CCS, not that it mattered that much where the Knights were seeded. It's more of an acknowledgement, more than anything else, that Menlo may be just as strong as last year when current Stanford freshman Jamin Ball was playing No. 1 singles.
Taking over for Ball at No. 1 is sophomore Andrew Ball. His younger brother, David, plays No. 2 doubles with Kyle Sum, who along with Andrew Carlisle are the only starting seniors on the team.
Junior Justin Chan plays No. 2 singles and sophomore Richard Pham holds down the No. 3 spot. Sophomore Daniel Morkovine and freshman J.T. Nishimura hold down the No. 1 doubles while sophomores William Boyd and Michael Hoffman play at No. 3, with senior Mac Osborne and junior Zach Chase.
Shine said he knew this team could be very good when he watched the current sophomores as freshmen at last year's National All-American Invitational. It was the never-give-in attitude they displayed that caught Shine's attention.
"That's when I knew we had a special team," he said. "I just knew the character of the kids. And they're all getting better."
Menlo's only loss to Saratoga on Wednesday came at No. 1 singles, where Andrew Ball dropped a three-setter to senior Nikil Jayashankar. Ball battled back from a 6-2 first-set loss to win the second, 6-4. With the match already clinched by Menlo, Ball and Jayashankar played a supertiebreaker that Ball lost, 10-8.
In the three singles wins by Menlo, the Knights dropped just seven games.
Menlo's current sophomore class of five is off to a 43-1 start in less than two full years. Should the Knights win out, they'll take a two-year mark of 53-1 into next season. No teams in Shine's 15 years at Menlo have ever done that.
"When this sophomore class graduates," predicted Shine, "it's going to rewrite all the records."
Shine's first four teams, from 1997-2000, went a combined 95-4 in dual matches. It's an impressive number, for sure, and a legitimate target if the current Knights continue along their successful path.
Elsewhere on Wednesday:
Palo Alto continued its postseason push with a 4-3 nonleague victory over host Sacred Heart Prep. The Vikings (11-8) got singles victories from Austin Leung (2-6, 6-2, 7-5) and Chirag Krishna (6-4, 6-1) and triumphs in doubles from Charlie Dulik-Mason Haverstock (6-4, 6-2) and Lucas Fodor-Phillip DeFries (6-4, 4-6, 6-2) to wrap up the victory over the Gators (7-6).
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Gunn (3-7, 8-7) had one of its best matches of the season despite dropping a 4-3 decision to Los Gatos in a makeup match. The Titans were swept in singles in straight sets, but battled in doubles to produce victories behind the tandems of Joe Atlas-Jack Kwan (4-6, 6-0, 6-1), Arjun Narayen-Ameya Rao (6-3, 6-2) and Kevin Macario-Thomas George (6-0, 6-1).
Menlo-Atherton (11-0, 13-2) moved closer to wrapping up a perfect season in the PAL Bay Division with a 4-3 victory over host Carlmont on a windy day in Belmont. Richie Sarwal and Nick Fratt had to rally from first-set deficits to win at No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively.
In Portola Valley, SHP got straight-set victories from Dave Refioglu, Nick Pizzuti, Reuben Sarwal and Carter Kremer during a 7-0 WBAL victory over host Priory.
Host Menlo-Atherton continued its fine season with a solid 6-1 thumping of Sacred Heart Prep in nonleague action. The Bears swept the singles matches behind straight-set victories by Scott Morris, Sarwal, Fratt and Matt Giordano.