Sports

Gunn boys are staging quite a tennis turnaround

 

The boys on the Gunn High tennis team started it all, so long ago. The Titans won the first-ever Central Coast Section title in 1972, starting a string of seven straight section titles -- a record that remains to this day.

And then there was the historic 200-match winning streak that stretched from 1969-79, setting a national record at the time. Today, it is merely the state mark.

That prosperity, however, didn't last. Gunn did go on to win two more CCS titles in 1980 and '81 and fell in the finals in 1986. The Titans haven't been back since.

The program most likely reached its low point last season when the Titans went 1-11 in the SCVAL De Anza Division.

"I think we were 1-19 overall," said Gunn coach Jim Gorman, perhaps trying to remove that image from his mind.

While it hasn't quite been a worst-to-first scenario, the Titans have turned it around this season and are among the leaders in the tough SCVAL De Anza Division race. The division had five of its seven teams in the CCS team tournament last season.

The Titans would like to be among that group this season and are in position to do so after beating Homestead, 6-1, on Thursday and rival Palo Alto, 6-1, on Tuesday to improve to 7-2 in league (11-4 overall).

The win over Homestead avenged a previous loss to the Mustangs that knocked the Titans out of a share of first place.

The win over Paly was significant in a number of ways. Gunn's earlier 7-0 victory over the Vikings was its first since March of 2011 and the season sweep was probably the first for the Titans in more than 20 years.

The matchup featured two of the most successful programs in CCS tennis history as the schools have combined for 15 section crowns. In addition to Gunn's streak, Palo Alto had one of its own 86 straight wins that ended in 1994.

The Vikings haven't reached the CCS finals since 1999 and likely won't be back this season, after graduating seven seniors. Gunn, on the other hand, picked up two key players this season and it has contributed to the Titans' big turnaround.

First to join the team was senior Andy Zhou, who played as a freshman but sat out the past two seasons while working on raising his national ranking for recruitment purposes. The hard work paid off as Zhou is headed to Harvard in the fall.

"As much as I wanted to play, I just didn't have time," Zhou explained of his two-year absence. "But, this is my senior year and I wanted to contribute as much as possible."

Zhou has done just that while fashioning an unbeaten season, mainly at No. 1 singles.

The other key component to Gunn's success is sophomore Conrad Russell, like Zhou a nationally ranked junior.

"I did talk to Conrad before the season," Zhou said. "I just asked him if he wanted to play. He made the right decision, and the team has benefited."

The talent and enthusiasm that Zhou and Russell have brought to the team has changed the atmosphere and outlook for the program.

"It's a huge difference in practice," said Gorman. "It's nice to have that spark at the top."

With Zhou and Russell leading the way at No. 1 and 2 singles, Gorman has been able to move last year's top players down in the order, thus strengthening the team top to bottom.

"My No. 1 and 2 singles players from last year are playing No. 1 doubles," explained Gorman.

The lineup shift has paid off in a 4-3 victory over former CCS champ Monta Vista and got the Titans to within 4-3 (a loss) to 2014 CCS runner-up Saratoga this season.

In the Monta Vista match, the Titans were trailing by 3-2 but Zhou had won his first set, 6-1, and Russell had grabbed a 6-2, 4-0 lead in his match. At that point, both Monta Vista opponents surprisingly quit perhaps realizing they had no chance to win.

Gunn, now on spring break, still has a home match against Saratoga on April 16 and a road match against Monta Vista on April 21 to cap the regular season.

"At full strength, were in the top three (in league)," said Gorman, who didn't have Russell for the Paly match due to illness. Russell returned Thursday to help topple Homestead.

While Gorman would like to win the division title, his primary goal is qualifying for CCS. That's the first step for the Titans in their return to tennis respectability.

The Menlo School boys, meanwhile, continue to be the front-runner for the No. 1 CCS seed after compiling a 17-1 record heading into spring break. The Knights are 9-0 in the West Bay Athletic League after sweeping a doubleheader from visiting Priory on Tuesday after an earlier match was rained out.

Menlo now has won 225 straight league dual matches, an ongoing state record. The Knights rank No. 3 all-time in the state for most consecutive league victories in any sport and are closing in on the No. 2 mark of 230 by Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) girls volleyball from 1985-2004. The state record is 289-0-5 by the girls' soccer team from Bonita Vista (Chula Vista) from 1982-2004.

Menlo's immediate goal, however, is to win a seventh straight CCS team title this season and tie Gunn's record.

The Titans still have one record that hasn't been touched, however, and that's 10 straight appearances in the CCS finals (1972-81). Menlo is second with nine (1997-05).

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Fan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 3, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Gunn last beat Palo Alto in a tennis league match in April of 2011. Please correct the information as I remembered watching that game.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Salt & Straw Palo Alto to open Nov. 23
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 4,107 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,415 views

Can we ever improve our schools?
By Diana Diamond | 8 comments | 1,157 views