Boys tennis team wins second consecutive CIF-SS title

Boys tennis team wins second consecutive CIF-SS title

Kenneth Lee '19 serves during the match against St. Francis April 17. Photo Credit: Ben Tenzer/Chronicle

It was only a year ago when the boys’ tennis team rushed the court to celebrate a 10-8 victory over Peninsula in the CIF Southern Section Finals in 2017. In a victorious episode of déjà vu, the Wolverines relived their triumph May 18 with a 13-5 victory over the Panthers, clinching their second CIF Championship in a row to finish a dominant 21-1 season.

“It was a fantastic experience to have everyone rush out onto the court and dogpile on top of me,” Stanley Morris ’18 said. “We were so excited and relieved to have won we just made sure we enjoyed the moment to the fullest.”

After emerging undefeated in the Mission League for the 17th straight year, the Wolverines battled under program head Chris Simpson to make their way back to the Finals, becoming the first team at the school to win two consecutive championships in CIF Division I since they first completed the feat in 2005.

“[Last year’s] winning mentality continued on this season within our group and it was a true pleasure watching them compete with so much confidence and intensity in our playoff journey,” Simpson said.

The Wolverines had depth at all ages, as Morris and fellow captain Sacha Pritzker ’18 led the young team along with Jarett Malouf ’18 and Strauss Cooperstein ’18. Kenneth Lee ’19 and Will Janos ’19 contributed strong play alongside talented younger players David Arkow ’20, Jonah Dickson ’20, Timothy Li ’20 and Mike Thomas ’20.

Many doubted the Wolverines after they graduated three standout seniors last year in Adam Strasberg ’17, Jed Kronenberg ’17 and Jacob Tucker ’17.

“This year is special in a different way because last year we had a lot of older guys carrying the load,” Thomas said. “So many of us young players had significant roles to play, and it was almost more rewarding this year to win because we really earned it.”

The Wolverines began their season with two straight victories against West Ranch and Granada Hills. Their first and only loss of the season came against University Irvine on Feb. 27, in which the squad struggled to match the energy of the Trojans in the 7-11 loss early in the year.

“After our only loss to [Irvine], I️ think everyone was really brought back to the reality that we weren’t an unbeatable team and that we had to work hard for every single match we played,” Li said. “It was a wake up call for all the guys on the team, something that was much needed.”

Pritzker said he thought that the loss tested their team’s character and forced them to strengthen their bonds with each other.

“It was actually after we lost to [Irvine] that I knew we could win the whole thing,” Pritzker said. “I saw the team come together and knew we had the capability to beat anyone if we played in our element.”

After the loss, the Wolverines went on an 19-game win streak to solidify their spot as one of the best teams in Southern California. The squad destroyed league rivals Loyola, Notre Dame and Chaminade, finishing with a staggering 18-0 victory over St. Francis before Spring Break. The team extended its league win streak to 198-0, eclipsing the state record with its last league defeat dating back to 1999.

The Wolverines also succeeded in tournament play, placing second in the All American National Tournament on March 24 after a 6-3 fall in the final to the top-seeded Menlo-Atherton team. In the Ojai Tournament on April 28, Li and Pritzker won first overall in doubles play.

As the season progressed, the players strengthened their bonds and prepared for the fight ahead. The Wolverines advanced to the CIF Playoffs, defeating Diamond Bar 16-2 in the first round and continued their success with commanding victories over Beckman, Woodbridge and Mira Costa to set up the final with Peninsula on May 18. Despite the lopsided scores, Cooperstein said that the path to glory wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“It wasn’t an easy road at all,” Cooperstein said. “There were a few matches against teams like Woodbridge, University Irvine and Mira Costa that could have gone either way.”

The squad also struggled with a few injuries, as Lee and Pritzker were sidelined for a couple weeks before playoffs.

Malouf said that the championship served as motivation for him and his teammates during the long season.

“Everyone was getting a little physically ill by the end of the season, but the finish line was so close that no one really chose to stop and recover before we clinched,” Malouf said.

When it came down to it, the Wolverines brought their best tennis against the Panthers in the Finals. Their 13-5 victory solidified their spot in school history as they look to three-peat in 2019.

“For now we are going to enjoy the win,” Arkow said. “But our goal for next year is to three-peat.”

The Wolverines continued to regionals where they continued their success, defeating Bishop’s School 6-1 in the first round May 24. The squad then advanced to the semi-finals May 25 and beat University Irvine 5-2, avenging the one and only loss to the Trojans in February. In the finals, the Wolverines emerged victorious in one final matchup against Peninsula, beating the team 4-3 and securing the Regional Championship and ending any hopes of redemption for the Panthers. The team clearly has a bright future but will dearly miss this year’s seniors after such a successful season.

“The seniors saved their best tennis for the playoffs,” Simpson said. “This team is a tight knit group who care about one another, and it was a privilege working with them.”

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