WESTLAKE VILLAGE — After missing the playoffs last season, St. Francis High boys’ tennis Coach Ron Zambrano welcomed any sign of progress.
What Zambrano didn’t count on was the Golden Knights rebounding from a six-win season in 2013 to post one of the program’s best records in more than 30 years.
St. Francis finished third in the tough Mission League behind Harvard-Westlake and Loyola, earning a spot in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons.
Unfortunately for St. Francis, its season came to an end Wednesday with a 14-4 loss to host Westlake in a first-round postseason match.
“It’s one of the best teams we’ve had in a long time and we came a long way from last year,” said Zambrano, whose team finished 14-5. “I thought we had the talent to get back into the playoffs and we beat some teams along the way in the regular season in Crescenta Valley, La Cañada and Flintridge Prep, all teams who beat us last season.
“You can’t ask for anything else. I didn’t expect a 14-5 record.”
Westlake, which captured the Marmonte League championship, improved to 20-0 and will meet Mater Dei or San Clemente in a second-round match Friday. The Warriors built a 5-1 lead following the first round and kept the Golden Knights at bay the remainder of the way.
“We had some hard first-set matches,” Zambrano said. “Things just didn’t go our way and you had to fight the heat and the winds.
“Westlake has got a good team. If you can’t jump ahead, it’s very hard to be able to come back. For our guys who are coming back next season, this will be a great experience.”
The Golden Knights received two singles wins from Jack Freer (6-3, 7-6 (7-2) and one apiece from Kristian Esteve (6-2), and Mostafa El-Harazi (6-4). Westlake’s No. 1 singles player Brandon Cho, who captured the 16-year-old Division championship at the prestigious Ojai Invitational in April, swept his three sets. Cho lost just six games.
Westlake won all nine doubles sets.
“Brandon is a very good player,” said Zambrano, who also coaches at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. “They have a lot of players who are battle tested.”
Esteve said the Golden Knights made significant strides throughout the season.
“This was definitely the best season we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Esteve, a senior. “I’m happy to have been a part of it.
“We had good chemistry and had fun putting in the work in order to have a better season. We wanted a top-three spot in league and nobody on our team doubted it for a second that we could get that done. Something just clicked. We just ran into a tough team in Westlake and they have some great players.”
Follow Charles Rich on Twitter: @TCNCharlesRich.