The Menlo School boys' tennis program has accomplished many remarkable feats over the past decades, but perhaps none as impressive as its seven consecutive Central Coast Section team championships.
So, as they attempt to capture their unprecedented eighth consecutive title, it was only fitting the Knights put on another outstanding performance, this time in a semifinal matchup against Bellarmine that head coach Bill Shine labeled their "best match of the season."
The No. 1-seed Knights (19-3) swept the No. 4-seed Bells (15-7-1), 7-0. at Bay Club Courtside on Wednesday, losing only one set in a rematch of the 2015 CCS Team Tournament finals.
"This team rises to the occasion," Shine said. "I didn't expect anything less to be honest."
The victory propels Menlo to yet another CCS finals, where the Knights will match up against No. 2 seed St. Ignatius (24-0) on Friday at Courtside at 1:30 p.m. The Wildcats defeated No. 3 Saratoga, 6-1, in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
"I don't think we've seen two teams that are this equal going up for the CCS finals in many, many years," Shine said of the finals matchup. "Who knows, it might be the match of the decade."
Menlo defeated St. Ignatius 7-0 in last year's CCS semifinals, and the two teams were scheduled to play again this season on March 22, but the match was cancelled due to rain.
"Obviously, they've got great players, otherwise they wouldn't be where they are at," senior captain Nathan Safran said of St. Ignatius. "I know many of their players from USTA tennis and they're great guys. I think we'll have a blast playing them."
No matter what happens Friday, both Menlo and SI will advance to the CIF NorCal Regional Championships at the Broadstone Racquet Club in Folsom on May 20-21.
Although there was never any doubt to the Knights' semifinal victory on Wednesday, the No. 1 singles matchup between Menlo sophomore Siddharth Chari and junior Andrew Ton provided plenty of excitement.
The first set started with Chari jumping out to an early 5-2 lead, before Ton, the West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year, won four straight games to gain a 6-5 advantage. But, Chari responded, winning the next game and the tiebreaker to take the first set.
In the second set, Ton jumped out to a 3-2 advantage, before Chari won four straight games to win the match.
"I knew everyone else on the team was winning, so I stayed loose," Chari said of his comeback. "I had no pressure because (Tom's) supposed to be better than me."
"That match just shows how mentally tough he is," Shine added. "He's only a sophomore, so it's frightening to see how good this kid can be."
In the other singles matches, senior Nathan Safran (6-0, 6-1) and sophomore Clark Safran (6-2, 6-0) swept on the No. 2 and No. 3 courts respectively, while freshman Andrei Volgin (6-1, 4-6, 10-5) needed an extra set to win on the No. 4 court.
The Knights were equally as dominant on the double courts, with all three pairs winning in straight sets.
On court No. 1, Menlo's Lane Leschly -- he just recently returned from a knee injury -- teamed up with fellow senior Gabriel Morgan to secure a 6-1, 7-5 victory.
"Having our best player back on the team makes a huge difference," Shine said of Leschly. "For our guys the excitement just build when they knew he was coming back."
On courts No. 2 and No. 3, seniors Alex Neumann and Dylan Pace (6-1, 6-1), and senior Michael Quezada and junior Mark Ball (6-1, 6-2) both cruised to quick victories.
Although a victory in Friday's CCS finals would give Menlo an eighth consecutive CCS championship and move the Knights past the streak they share with Gunn (1972-78) in the record books, Shine insisted he hasn't given the accomplishment that much thought.
"It'd be nice but it's not at the top of our list," Shine said of the streak. "I just like the consistency we've had over the years getting into the finals. I think that's more important."
Added Chari: "It means a lot returning to the CCS championship, not only because we have a record on the line, but also I have a really close relationship with the seniors on the team and I am really determined on letting them leave on a good note."
Shine did say a couple of the seniors on the team, including Safran, have recently brought up the streak, and the Menlo coach said he would be happy for his team to have any extra motivation in the finals.
"The legacy at Menlo is just astonishing," Safran said. "To leave it the program the way I found it would be such a gift. I'd be so happy to win it (CCS) again."