Sports

Unlikely heroes help keep Menlo's tennis streak alive

 

Ellie Lieberman and Ellen Cho may not have wanted their tennis match to be the deciding factor but when it was thrust upon them, they put their heads together and embraced the opportunity.

Menlo School's No. 3 doubles team found itself gripped in a classic showdown with Sacred Heart Prep's Emily McGrath and Nooryan Jafri and the match in balance.

Lieberman and Cho ended the match, and kept Menlo's streak alive, nearly 2 1/2 hours after the start. The Knights edged SH Prep, 4-3, and it was a lot closer than the score indicates.

McGrath and Jafri were down before rallying to tie the second set and force the tie-breaker. The final was 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

"It was the best ever," Gators assistant coach Sue Lynch said. "We knew it could be close and to have it come down to a tiebreaker . . . we're very proud of our girls."

The Knights, winners of 232 consecutive league matches, have been tested over the years but nothing this dramatic.

"We've had some close ones but this is the closest we've come," Menlo coach Bill Shine said. "This is a great group of girls and they've worked hard."

Both players found themselves engulfed in happy teammates following the final point.

"We played well. We have a strong lineup. We'll keep trying," Lynch said.

Shine figured this might be a tough year after losing two promising players before the first match of a the season.

"But these guys have developed a great team chemistry," Shine said. "We're still a pretty young team. To come here and beat a good team, it's pretty impressive."

Cho, a freshman, was nervous even before the match began. Lieberman, a senior, knew what was at stake and hoped it would have been decided before their match, like a long, long time before their match.

"Our matches with Sacred Heart are always competitive," Lieberman said. "I didn't want to be the decider. I told Bill before the match I didn't want to lose his streak."

Instead she became an important footnote in the life of the streak. Besides, Shine told her there was nothing to worry about.

"These guys didn't start the streak but unfortunately every year it builds up," Shine said. "They handled the pressure."

As other matches finished, groups of players and fans gravitated toward court three. Every serve, every volley became enough reason for teammates to cheer, cajole, celebrate and/or support the players.

"I was pretty nervous. I didn't know what to expect," Cho said. "I tried to ignore the crowd. I know they were trying to keep us motivated but I wanted to focus on the game."

"The crowd was intimidating," Lieberman said. "By that time, nothing was going to make me more nervous than I was."

Between every point, Lieberman and Cho would say something to the other, encouraging words maybe, or even a little advice.

"It may seem simple but the best advice I got from her was about my top spin," Lieberman said. "I was getting upset during the second set but she really helped me out."

A freshman also helped Sacred Heart Prep pull off the near upset. Isa Robinson gave the Gators their second point with a straight set win over Kathryn Wilson at No. 4 singles.

Lindsay Marcus and Sarah McGrath won the first set in a tiebreaker and then went on to win at No. 2 doubles for the third point.

SH Prep junior Sara Choy, the two-time defending CCS singles champion, put the Gators ahead with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Taylor Gould at the top of the ladder. It was her 67th straight win over high school competition.

"Sara has been great for our league," Shine said. "She shows the rest of the section that we have some pretty good players in our league."

Choy, who has been ranked No. 1 in the nation in juniors, needed less than an hour to complete her match. She was still there when the match needed.

"She's a fantastic teammate," Lynch said. "If we say 'We need you Sara,' she's already saying 'I'm there' before I finish."

Georgia Anderson and Elika Eshghi won at Nos. 2 and 3 singles to rally the Knights and the No. 1 doubles team of Kaitlin Hao and Vivian Liu got Menlo's third point.

In another WBAL match, Castilleja downed visiting Crystal Springs Uplands, 7-0, at Rinconada Park. Soline Boussard, playing at No. 4 singles, rallied from a first set loss to beat Isabella Liu, 2-6, 6-4, 10-4.

Wallis Hess took care of business at the top of the ladder, winning 6-0, 6-0. The Gators (2-2, 10-5) visit Menlo next Thursday for a 3:30 p.m. league encounter.

Pinewood (1-3, 3-7) earned its first league victory with a 4-3 decision over Harker.

The Eagles were forced to forfeit a singles match and the Panthers won three others, all in tiebreakers.

Haley Mathews beat Rachel Broweleit, 7-6, 2-6, 10-7, at No. 2 singles while Tina Huang was credited for the win at No. 4.

The doubles team of Lauren Corfield and Elena He squeezed past Christine Bettank and Lynn Sullivan, 6-4, 1-6, 11-9 and the duo of Sonia Stangenes and Nicole Tang edged Amanda Cheung and Emma Li, 6-2, 4-6, 10-8.

Pinewood hosts Castilleja next Thursday at 3:30 p.m. while Harker goes to Sacred Heart Prep.

In the PAL, Menlo-Atherton beat visiting Woodside, 7-0, to improve to 6-0 in league and 8-3 overall.

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