Sports

It's another banner tennis season for Menlo School boys

 

It was perhaps appropriate that Menlo School Athletic Director Kris Weems was on hand Friday to watch the Knights win the Central Coast Section Team Tournament title in boys tennis with a 5-2 victory over Bellarmine at Bay Club Courtside in Los Gatos.

Weems, after all, will be overseeing a little renovation of the Menlo Athletic Center thanks to the Knights' latest title.

Each sport has a large banner hanging in the gym, marking the numerous championships won. Menlo's 14th CCS tennis title means it's time for a new banner.

"The kids talked about it," Menlo coach Bill Shine said of winning another section crown. "They have to put up a new banner in the gym because the other one is full. So, they really wanted it."

Not only did the top-seeded Knights earn themselves a new banner, but Friday's title was their seventh straight -- tying them with Gunn's streak from 1972-78.

"It was great to do it," Shine said of tying the streak. "It's very special."

Gunn's streak was accomplished during an era that saw the Titans set a national record with 200 straight victories from 1969-1978. Menlo has its own streak of 228-0 in league dual meets. That's an ongoing state record.

Menlo now takes a 25-1 record into next week's CIF NorCal playoffs at the Natomas Racquet Club near Sacramento. Bellarmine (22-4), however, will not be playing as players will be graduating on Saturday, May 23.

Menlo will be the top seed while seeking a seventh straight NorCal crown and 12th overall. Dougherty Valley of San Ramon likely will be the Knights' toughest competition.

Against Bellarmine, Menlo was in a fight all the way.

"It was a lot closer than the score indicated," Shine said of Friday's win over the third-seeded Bells.

Menlo did get off to a 3-0 lead as freshman Siddharth Chari won at No. 3 singles, 6-1, 6-3, and fellow freshman Clark Safran took his No. 4 singles match, 6-1. 6-1. When senior Clarence Lam and junior Alex Neumann posted a 6-4, 6-1 win at No. 3 doubles, it appeared Menlo had things wrapped up.

Not so. Menlo's No. 1 doubles team of senior Vikram Chari and junior Lane Leschly lost the first set and the No. 2 tandem of Gabriel Morgan and Mark Ball lost its second set. And, Gunther Matta had lost his first set at No. 2 singles and fellow senior Victor Pham was headed for a third set at No. 1. Both wound up losing.

Meanwhile, both Menlo doubles tandems were playing together for the first time this season, thanks to Bellarmine changing its lineup -- moving its No. 3 and 4 singles players to No. 1 doubles. That forced Shine to do the same, with his No. 1 tandem from the semifinals (Siddharth Chari and Clark Safran) moving into singles.

"It was tough to adjust in the first set," said Vikram Chari, who was playing with a sore shoulder that kept him out of Monday's quarterfinals. "I've never had this problem. It hurt bad."

"They were pretty strong, and we were uptight," said Leschly, who was battling an allergic problem that caused him to have vision problems in one eye.

The tandem decided to just have fun after the first-set loss and turned things around for a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory to clinch the team victory.

Teammates who had lined up on an adjoining court charged Leschly and Chari to celebrate.

"We really showed our depth today, especially in doubles," said Shine. "Gabe and Mark hadn't played together all year. They really came through."

Shine knew the title match would be a battle, but that Bellarmine "Would really have to play their best to win," he said. "I had confidence in our guys."

And now he has another CCS title.

"I don't ever take it for granted," said Shine, who improved to 453-46 in his 19th season. "The older kids want to keep the streak going and younger kids just want to be a part of it."

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