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Lightning reigns

Boys' Tennis

Sage Hill holds on for CIF title, the first for any boys' sport at the school.

June 01, 2011|By Matt Szabo, matthew.szabo@latimes.com
(Kevin Chang / Daily…)

CLAREMONT — They came for a tennis match and a World Cup celebration broke out.

Dozens of Sage Hill School students piled onto the court at The Claremont Club on Wednesday afternoon. They joined in a mob near the baseline and started the familiar soccer chant, "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole."

Celebrations like that don't usually happen at tennis matches, but this was no ordinary tennis match. The Lightning boys' tennis players at the middle of that celebration had just made history.

They were CIF champions, holding on for a 10-8 victory over Valencia of Placentia in the Southern Section Division III championship match.

It is the first boys' tennis CIF title in program history, and the first CIF team title for a boys' sport at Sage Hill, period. The 2011 Sage boys join the 2005 girls' tennis and girls' volleyball teams as the only three Lightning squads to ever take home the CIF championship hardware.

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Sage Hill senior captain Andrew Kurzweil called it probably the biggest sporting event in school history. Anyone could tell how much Kurzweil wanted it, playing with what he said was either an abdominal strain or hernia. He served underhand and avoided overhead shots, but still came up with a sweep with sophomore Ryan Lee at No. 2 doubles.

Like all of the Lightning players, they really fed off the crowd support. Athletic director J.R. Tolver said 108 students came up in rooter buses. It was a huge total for a school with just 430 students, not counting notable Lightning tennis alumni also present like Alex Koeberle, Julia Blakeley and Jaclyn Smrecek.

"We had more people here than at a football game, and it's Division III tennis," Kurzweil said. "That's not supposed to happen, but we were hyping up the match. We set up Facebook events, sent out emails … They didn't come to the match because of tennis, but once they got here they got really into it. They really helped us a lot. I give Mr. [Head of school Gordon] McNeill a lot of credit for letting the fans come."

Those fans — including several dressed up in bright full-body suits and another wearing a gorilla costume — hung on every point in the final set on-court. Sage Hill's No. 1 doubles team of senior Kevin Marshack and junior Alex Manolakas were playing the Valencia duo of Daniel Kim and Lindsey Youngquist. The Lightning (20-5) clung to a 9-8 sets lead, but the teams were tied in games. That meant that if Valencia could win the final set, the Lions (20-4) would clinch the title.

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