Menlo averts possible disaster, advances to CCS tennis final


On the surface, Menlo School's 7-0 tennis victory over St. Ignatius in the semifinals of the boys' Central Coast Section Team Tournament was simply routine.

After winning six straight section crowns, that victory might elicit a sigh or ho-hum.

But, it took a lot of positive things to happen this week for the top-seeded Knights (24-1) to advance to Friday's championship match against No. 3 seed Bellarmine (22-3) at Bay Club Courtside in Los Gatos. First serve is 1:30 p.m.

Bellarmine advanced with a 4-3 victory over No. 2 Saratoga (16-3) at the Los Gatos Swim & Racquet Club.

On Monday, there was the distinct possibility that Menlo could be without seven players while facing an unseeded SI team (20-6) that had beaten Piedmont Hills (7-0), No. 5 Menlo-Atherton (7-0) and No. 4 Gunn (5-2) to reach the semifinals.

"There was a big concern," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "In practice, we were getting other guys ready."

Menlo junior Nathan Safran was sidelined with a broken foot. Another player was going to be attending a memorial service. Four others were scheduled to take AP tests and senior Vikram Chari was battling a sore back.

"Three kids re-arranged their AP test at the last second," said Shine. "They didn't know they could do that, reschedule at a later date."

Fortunately, junior Lane Leschly worked things out and Shine was able to have his normal singles lineup of senior Victor Pham, senior Gunther Matta, Leschly and Chari, who played through his physical problems to post a 2-6, 6-1, 10-8 victory.

"He wasn't playing his best today, you could see that," Shine said of Chari, who was held out of Monday's 7-0 quarterfinal victory over Harker.

"Worst-case scenario, he couldn't play," Shine said.

Had everything worked against the Knights, they were staring at an upset loss.

"Yep," said Shine. "But, we kept a positive mindset. The boys played up to the level they needed to."

Pham was efficient at No. 1 singles, 6-1, 6-1. Matta battled for a 7-5, 6-2 win at No. 3, and Leschly hung tough for a 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 3.

In doubles, the freshman tandem of Siddharth Chari and Clark Safran wound up clinching the match with a 6-3, 6-4 triumph at No. 1. On Monday, Chari played No. 4 singles and Safran was at No. 2 doubles.

Setting the stage for them was the No. 2 tandem of Alex Neumann and Gabriel Morgan, 6-1, 6-3 winners, and the No. 3 squad of Kylee Santos and Dylan Pace, who were first off the court following a 6-1, 6-0 victory. Pace filled in after not playing Monday.

"The doubles came through in the clutch," said Shine, who had no seniors playing doubles against SI.

Menlo still missed four players -- Mark Ball, Michael Quezada (Monday's No. 2 doubles team), Clarence Lam (taking a test) and Nathan Safran. All four played in last year's CCS championship match against Saratoga.

That victory in 2014 not only gave Menlo its sixth straight CCS title, but it put the Knights in position to tie Gunn's record of seven straight crowns (1972-78) this Friday.

Playing to tie that streak, Shine said, is not lost on his players.

"It's really important," he said. "The boys know the history."

Speaking of history, Menlo will be shooting for a record 14th CCS title. Should that be accomplished and the Knights go on to win a 12th CIF NorCal crown, the current seniors will be only the third Menlo class to win four section and four NorCal titles -- and only the third team to win 28 matches in a season.

Good news for Shine is that he'll have all but Nathan Safran available for the finale. That, of course, is bad news for Bellarmine, which fell to the Knights in the semifinals last year, 6-1.

Both teams, however, will advance to the CIF NorCal playoffs set for the Gold River Racquet Club on May 22-23 in Gold River (outside of Sacramento).

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