With his lengthy reach, 6-foot-2 height and agility, junior Alex Manolakas of Sage Hill proved too formidable at the net for his Long Beach Wilson opponents.
Combining with senior Kevin Marshack to form the Lightning’s No. 1 doubles team, the pair outlasted Wilson’s No. 1 duo of Cameron Smith and Nick Sinonelli, 7-5, in their only close match during Sage Hill’s 14-4 victory in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
On Tuesday at The Tennis Club at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island, the Lightning nearly put the contest away after sweeping every match in the first of three rounds, and made it official after finishing the second round with an insurmountable 10-2 lead.
While no boys team has ever won a section championship in Sage Hill's 10 years of existence, the third-seeded tennis team qualified for its third consecutive semifinal appearance, but the Lightning will have to play the next round of the Division 3 playoffs on the road next Tuesday, when it will meet the winner of the quarterfinal match between second-seeded Cerritos and North Torrance.
“We were very fortunate to win that way in the first round [of play Tuesday],” Lightning coach A.G. Longoria said. “They’re a very good team.”
The ease with which Sage Hill dispatched a Bruins team that had lost only two matches the entire season heading into Tuesday’s quarterfinal speaks volumes to the Lightning’s talent. Junior Robbe Simon, the No. 1 singles player, beat his three opponents by identical 6-0 scores.
“We’ve got the kind of team where if an opponent is strong in singles, our doubles could beat them. If a team’s stacked in doubles, our singles could beat them," Longoria said. "If there’s a team as balanced as ours, it’d be a close match.”
Marshack, who is headed to George Washington University in the fall, and Manolakas, beat Wilson's No. 2 team of Cory Ritter and Devin Dowlar, 6-2, and dispatched the No. 3 team of Phillip Scholnak and Jordan Wilkins, 6-1. Sage Hill's No. 2 doubles team of Sean Batten and freshman Eric Maglianditi also swept its three sets, beating Dowlar and Ritter, 6-2; Scholnak and Wilkins, 6-2, and Smith and Sinonelli, 6-3.
“We’re definitely playing better,” Manolakas said. “He [Marshack] has struggled with a return, so now he’s making a lot more of them. It’s putting a lot less pressure on our serves.”
Sage Hill's No. 2 singles player, Andrew Kurzweil, who won the clinching match by beating Long Beach Wilson’s No. 1 singles player, Jenteel Alcafaras, 6-3, also noticed a difference in this year's team. Kurzweil was on the Lightning team that lost to Cerritos in a tiebreaker by nine games in the semifinal two years ago. Kurzweil also defeated the Bruins' No. 2 singles player Jadin Press, 6-1, and No. 3 player Ryan Murchison, 6-2.
“This team’s a lot deeper,” Kurzweil said. “Our No. 3 doubles team [Naster Emtiaz and Ryan Kim] can beat other teams’ No. 1 teams. We feel really more confident than with past teams, when our top singles and top doubles teams would win most of our matches.”
Sage Hill won its first outright Academy League title by posting a 10-0 league mark. The Lightning finished 18-5 in the regular season, but didn't shy away from playing many of the top Division 1 teams.
Long Beach Wilson (18-3) won the Moore League title with a 14-1 record and was coming off a close second-round victory Friday over Pacifica of Garden Grove. The Bruins' match with the Mariners finished at 9-9, with Wilson winning on games, 88-74.
“I hoped it would be closer,” Bruins coach Chuck Schafer said of Tuesday's quarterfinal match. “We were playing a really good squad, so the kids should feel good. We had a young team with one senior [Dowlar] and four juniors. We have eight out of nine of our starters returning next season.”
Alcafaras and Press pulled off the only wins in singles for Wilson, defeating Sage Hills' No. 3 player Denis Cirit by scores of 6-2 and 6-4, respectively. Cirit scored a 6-4 victory over Murchison, the Bruins' No. 3 player.
Smith and Sinonelli pulled out one of two 6-4 wins in doubles for Wilson, both over Sage Hill's No. 3 team of Emtiaz and Kim. Dowlar and Ritter picked up the other.
“I figured they were going to be good,” Smith said. “We did our best and we still lost.”