Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 15, 2013

Menlo School girls finally get a break

by Keith Peters

Menlo School girls tennis coach Bill Shine had a number of reasons to be happy with receiving the No. 1 seed for the 2013 Central Coast Section Team Tournament.

First, the top spot placed the Knights in the bracket opposite of two-time defending champ Monta Vista, which has eliminated Menlo six times in the past 10 years.

Second, history favors the No. 1 seed. Since 2003, the top team has won the section title seven times.

"I am just happy we're on the other side of the draw from Monta Vista," Shine said. "They're getting two players back and they probably have to be favored."

That could be true, despite the fact the Matadors are seeded only No. 3 this season due to having lost five times during an injury-plagued campaign.

Thus, the Matadors could still prove to be that big thorn in Menlo's side. In fact, the last time the Knights were seeded No. 1 — in 2003 — they were upset by Monta Vista in the title match.

That's how unpredictable this year's CCS tournament could be.

"I guarantee the seeds won't go as planned," said Shine. "You're going to see a lot of upsets and 4-3 matches. It should be exciting."

Menlo did its part in keeping the playoffs interesting with a 5-2 win over visiting Hillsdale on Wednesday in second-round action. Hillsdale was a co-champ in the PAL Bay Division this season with Carlmont. Menlo, however, defeated the Knights, 5-2, on Sept. 27.

Still, Shine acknowledged, "We have a tough draw."

The other seeded teams in Menlo's bracket are No. 4 Los Altos, No. 5 St. Ignatius and No. 8 Mitty. Menlo has yet to play any of them this season.

"It's really loaded," Shine said of the playoff bracket. "The top teams have come down and there's more parity. A lot of schools have a shot. It should be exciting. I hope we can fulfill our seed."

Shine wasn't too surprised at receiving the No. 1 seed, as the Knights compiled the best record in the CCS at 21-1 and didn't lose to anyone in the section. The only loss, 4-3 to Buchanan, came in finals of the California Classic in September. The Knights have won 19 straight since then, heading into Friday's quarterfinals against visiting Mitty (18-3) at 2 p.m.

The semifinals will be Monday with the championship match next Wednesday at Courtside Club in Los Gatos starting at 1:30 p.m.

Menlo is looking for its first berth in the finals since 2006 and its first title since 2005.

"We definitely have a shot at it," Shine said. "We've gotten people back from nagging injuries . . . I feel good about how we're playing . . . (but) there's just that unpredictability with high school girls."

This season saw a three-way tie in the West Catholic Athletic League, a two-way tie in the PAL Bay Division and a two-way tie in the SCVAL De Anza Division. Menlo was the only team to win an outright championship, in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division).

The Knights won their 208th straight league dual match, an ongoing state record, to cap a 10-0 WBAL season. Menlo hasn't lost in league play since 1993. Shine, meanwhile, won his 400th with the Menlo girls and now stands at 412-74 in his 18th season.

The number on Shine's mind presently, though, it eight. Should the Knights win three more times, it will be Menlo's eighth CCS title in girls' tennis.

Menlo could get some help from Palo Alto in the upper bracket, as the No. 7-seeded Vikings are (18-5) after winning their second-round match on Wednesday, 7-0, over R.L. Stevenson. Of the five losses that Paly has suffered, four were by 4-3 scores. The Vikings also earned a 4-3 win over Monta Vista, which was missing a key player or two at the time.

"This year represents the culmination of four years of team building," said Paly coach Andy Harader, in his 11th season with the Paly girls. "We have seven seniors on the team — six are starters and represent, with the exception of (freshman) Avanika (Narayan), the top seven spots. Next year we go back to the beginning."

Palo Alto started the season 12-0 before dropping a 4-3 decision to Monta Vista. The Vikings also have won their share of close ones while compiling their best record since going 21-4 and losing to Saratoga in the 2008 CCS semifinals.

"I will say the Paly girls have won some close matches and that says a lot about their maturity and perseverance," Harader said.

Palo Alto has not played in a CCS title match since 1981, when the Vikings won it all.

Next up for Palo Alto will be a quarterfinal match Friday at No. 2 Saratoga.

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