NEWPORT BEACH — When Robbe Simon twists and turns to hit the tennis ball across the net there isn't any more pain. Last year, he dealt with a bad back and was relegated to doubles play for the Sage Hill School boys' tennis team.
But things have changed for Simon, and for the Lightning squad too. Simon is now Sage Hill's No. 1 singles player. He doesn't look to be in any pain now.
His play this year is one of many reasons Sage Hill appears at the top of its game seeking its first CIF Southern Section crown in boys' tennis. Simon swept at love Tuesday helping the No. 3-seeded Lightning to a 14-4 Division III quarterfinal win over visiting Long Beach Wilson at The Tennis Club Newport Beach.
Sage Hill (18-5) advances to the semifinals for the third straight year. The Lightning will play at No. 2-seeded Cerritos Tuesday.
This is Sage Hill's first year in Division III. Simon and a strong senior core want a CIF title in the Lightning's debut. It would be the school's first CIF championship in a boys' sport since the school began varsity competition in the 2001-02 school year.
"I think we can go all the way, I really feel like we can," said Simon, who improved to 36-2. "We really want that ring, so bad."
Last year, Simon was excited when he transferred to Sage Hill after he moved to Laguna Beach from Arizona. He said he moved because of tennis, to play here and to train at Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine.
However, Simon spent most of the year dealing with a bad back after he suffered a fracture of a lower vertebra, he said. He rehabilitated back to strength, but spent the Lightning's postseason playing doubles.
Then this season, he dealt with pain in his left shoulder. He had to serve underhand. But Simon was OK with the pain, because he said it made it him stronger.
The rest of the players on the Sage Hill team can relate. They went through a lot of hurt last year when they lost in the semifinals to Rowland. Sage Hill fell to Rowland in a super tiebreaker, 11-7, after the teams tied on sets and games. Then the Lightning watched as Rowland lost to Viewpoint in the section final. They had beaten Viewpoint during the regular season.
Now they're thinking something like that has made them stronger. It has certainly made them hungry.
"This is my senior year, man. Last chance to win," said Andrew Kurzweil, one of Sage Hill's six seniors. "Sage has never won it before. I'd love to be a part of the first team that won it."
Kurzweil swept at No. 2 singles, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. The Lightning grabbed control in the first round against the Bruins (18-3).
The No. 1 doubles team of senior Kevin Marshack and junior Alex Manolakas grabbed a nice 7-5 win to help Sage Hill take a 6-0 lead. Marshack and Manolakas improved to 38-2 after sweeping Wilson, also earning 6-0, 6-2 wins.
Senior Sean Batten and freshman Eric Magliarditi swept at No. 2 doubles, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.
"[Sage Hill has] never been this deep, that's why everyone is so excited," Marshack said. "I wouldn't say we have an arrogance going into the semifinals, but we have confidence going into it … We have a swagger … We know if we play our game it's going to take a very good team to beat us."
Wilson just couldn't match up with Sage Hill. The Bruins had advanced to the quarterfinals with an 88-74 victory on games over Pacifica.
"We weren't expecting to be here," Wilson Coach Chuck Schafer said before Tuesday's match began.
Things were much different on the other side. Before the second round began, Longoria was telling his players to win with class.
Now he's sensing something special, as his team is vying to reach the final for the first time. He knows his team doesn't want to go out like it did last year.
"We started believing last year," Longoria said. "This team has wanted to win it since June of last year."
CIF Southern Section Division III
Sage Hill 14, Long Beach Wilson 4
Singles – Robbe Simon won 6-0, 6-0, 6-0; Andrew Kurzweil won 6-1, 6-3, 6-2; Denis Cirit won 6-4, lost 4-6, 2-6.
Doubles – Kevin Marshack and Alex Manolakas won 7-5, 6-0, 6-2; Sean Batten and Eric Magliarditi won 6-2, 6-3, 6-2; Nasier Emtiaz and Ryan Lee won 6-1, lost 4-6, 4-6.