Stellar San Marino tennis season comes up short of perfect against University

CLAREMONT — There just aren’t many frontiers left for the San Marino High boys’ tennis program, which has won 24 CIF Southern Section titles in 32 attempts over seven decades.

Yet, on Saturday afternoon, the Titans reached uncharted territory, while ultimately leaving the program with one final prize to attain.

PHOTOS: San Marino competes in SoCal Regional boys' tennis championship

San Marino, which won a CIF Southern Section Division II championship a week earlier at the Claremont Club, came up short in its bid to add another title, as Division I champion University of Irvine handed the Titans their first loss this season, 5-2, in Saturday afternoon’s inaugural CIF United States Tennis Assn./Southern California Regional Championships in Claremont.

“University is just an amazing program, the best, but this was a great experience for our guys to come out and take a couple of points from them,” Titans Coach Melwin Pereira said. “We had never been here before, so this was different and maybe we’ll have a chance to win it next year.”

While Rio Hondo League champion San Marino (22-1) entered with an impressive record, there was no topping the juggernaut Trojans (20-0), who had won four straight Division I championships and hadn’t lost a single match in four years.

“I got a little choked up before today’s match because this is the end of a great run. We have three All-Americans, should have been four, we’ve won 90 straight matches and we’ve won CIF titles and Ojai,” University Coach John Kessler said. “But we still had to come out and compete against a very well-coached San Marino team.

“Melwin does a great job and they’re a mirror image of us. I’d love to see both teams back here again next year.”

It was the second time in as many seasons that San Marino had its year ended by University, which handed the Titans their second loss in 24 matches after defeating them last season in the CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinals, 15-3.

Within a rapid 50-minute span, the Trojans won the day’s first four matches in clinching the title.

University’s duo of Arseni Yalouskikh and Michael Chang launched the first salvo when the pair topped San Marino’s Mark Lew and Timothy Duong, 6-0, 6-2, in the No. 3 doubles match.

That win came before a 6-0, 6-2 victory for University singles player Eric Tseng over San Marino’s Vincent Cheng in the third-seeded singles match and a perfect 6-0, 6-0 sweep from the Trojans’ Arash Hafezi over San Marino’s Matthew Hsiao in No. 4 singles action.

“What can you say about University, they’re just too deep,” Pereira said. “They were missing two guys, too. I thought they were going to break up their No. 3 doubles to make up for the missing players and didn’t. I actually thought their moves were good for us, but that didn’t matter.”

The clincher came on arguably the highest profile match, when University’s nationally top-ranked senior Gage Brymer, who’s headed to UCLA in the fall, defeated UC Davis-bound Titans singles ace James Wade, 6-1, 6-1.

“I actually thought I played better against him this time that when I saw him at Ojai a month ago,” said Wade, who lost to Brymer, 6-0, 6-2 at the Ojai semifinals in April. “But then you look up at the score and see I got one game. Gage is just a talented guy and there’s not much you can do.”

University’s final win came when No. 2 singles player Tyler Lu closed out the match in besting Daniel Gealer, 6-3, 6-3.

Despite the defeat, there were some bright moments for the Titans, including when the No. 1 doubles team of Robert Carter and Ryan Cheng rallied from a tough first set to defeat Konrad Kozlowski and Garrett Kurtz, 1-6, 6-4, 10-3.

“We started really poorly and just had to gather ourselves and fight back,” said Carter, whose cross-court smash broke a 2-2 deadlock in the tie-breaker and propelled the Titans to the win. “We just wanted to get a point today and we got one.”

San Marino’s other victory came for the No. 2 doubles duo of Nicolas Splichal and Derek Chen, which defeated Issei Hasegawa and Matt Maddox, 6-4, 6-4.

“Hey, we knew how good University was. They were supposed to win,” Splichal said. “That didn’t mean that we couldn’t compete. Our goal was to get a couple of points and we did that.”

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