The Menlo girls' tennis team advanced to the NorCal Championship for the fourth time in seven seasons and, as a result, can think of themselves as one of the best high school teams in the nation.
Menlo (23-6) played West Bay Athletic League rival Harker (20-1) for the fourth time this season, dropping a 5-2 decision on Saturday at Broadstone Racquet Club in Folsom.
Harker downed Menlo for the sixth consecutive time, dating to last season. Harker’s lone loss was to Canyon Crest Academy, which lost to Westlake 4-3 in the SoCal final. Harker beat Westlake in a tiebreaker.
Menlo has lost to three teams and all of them, including Canyon Crest, played in one of the regional tournaments. The Knights also lost to Westview, which lost to CCA, and beat Palisades, which lost to Westlake, which some feel is the best team in the nation.
Menlo did not back down against Harker in a match that lasted nearly three hours.
Menlo freshman Andra Braicu rose to win at No.2 singles, Menlo's No. 3 doubles team of senior Alex Viret and freshman Izzy Klugman completed an undefeated season.
Menlo was down 3-2, but two matches went to a tie-breaker. No. 4 singles junior Charlotte Yao went to a third-set tiebreaker, and the No .2 doubles team of senior captain Brynn Brady and junior Charlotte Makoni were battling in a seven-point tiebreaker.
"I think with each match, the team played better and better.” Menlo senior and co-captain Tricia Zhang said. “We knew that the matches were going to be pretty tough so everyone tried to stay focused on the current match instead of looking too much into the future.
“When we got to the finals and were playing Harker again, I think it could have been very easy for us to go into the match without a lot of confidence because we had lost to them the previous times this season. But I am so proud of the team because everyone went into the finals determined and with a lot of fight and belief that we could win. I think we all played our best match of the season, and everyone stayed composed and fought until the very end."
Zhang at No. 1 as well as senior captain C.C. Golub and junior Natalie Westermann at No.1 doubles and No. 3 singles Sofia Labatt fell in matches marked by long rallies.
"The girls kept at it and never let up," Menlo coach Bill Shine said. "What I think the highest accomplishment of the season was this past weekend. It's not because we got all the way to the finals or anything like that. I think the girls expected that they would get to the finals; it was the unwavering grit that the girls mentally achieved going into the match. We got beat three times already this season by Harker and to go into the match without letting up was remarkable. The seniors had a lot to do with that, with the mindset going in and carrying through the entire match.
"I think this is one of the few times when every match on seven courts, everyone was playing their absolute best. That doesn't happen a lot. Because of that, they almost pulled it off."
The Knights defeated Chico 6-1 in the opening round and beat Amador Valley 7-0 to advance to the final.
"Looking back, this season and the past four years went by so quickly and I am really sad that it’s over," Zhang said. "I’m so proud of the team, how much we improved and everything we accomplished."
Menlo won NorCal titles in 2019, 2015 and 2014.
Gunn opened its season under first-year coach DJ Kobza with a non-league win on the road at San Jose 57-10 Monday.
Freshman Vallory Kuelker led the Titans with 20 points. Mollie Kuelker added 14 and freshman Violet Tivol contributed 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals.
Gunn plays again Saturday at 2:30 pm against Castilleja at home.
Tayo Sobomehin scored 16 points and Steve Emeneke added 15 and Priory opened its season with a 63-38 victory at More.