James Wade's success gauged by postseason triumphs in tennis

SAN MARINO — There's a natural temptation to wonder just what kind of season San Marino High senior James Wade would have had without the presence of University High phenom Gage Brymer.

It seemed around every corner, at every championship opportunity, Wade would ultimately run into the nation's top-ranked player and would ultimately be denied.

"In all honestly, Gage is just on another level. He's a machine and his work ethic, from what I hear, is the best in Southern California," San Marino High Coach Melwin Pereira. "I wanted to be realistic with James when we game-planned for Gage. So, I gave him two pieces of advice. The first was to try and take as many points as possible. The second thing was to improve against him each time."

Ultimately, the two met on three occasions in 2013 with Brymer winning all three matches at Ojai, the CIF Southern California Regionals and at the CIF Southern Section Individual Championships.

Those two wins, coupled with Brymer's 2-0 record versus Wade in 2012 (with one of those victories taking place during the Trojans' dominating 15-3 triumph over the Titans in the CIF-SS Division I quarterfinals), could have easily left a sour taste in Wade's mouth.

Yet, Wade was anything but bitter.

"He forces me to play my best and to try to limit my mistakes. Gage does just about everything right. He plays with power and finesse, has great footwork and an incredible serve," Wade said. "So, I have to try and stay with him as best as I can.

"I've been frustrated in the past, but I realized if I keep on meeting him in finals, it must mean I'm doing something right and I'm doing well, too."

Beyond the three defeats, Wade built a body of work second to none in the area and was unanimously selected as the All-Area Boys' Tennis Singles Player of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the Pasadena Sun, La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.

"James was one of the leaders on this team, someone we all listened to," Titans freshman Ryan Cheng said at the conclusion of the season. "If James was doing well, the team was doing well."

The UC Davis-bound Wade was at the forefront of every major victory for the Titans (22-1), including at the very beginning.

The earliest omen for future Titans success was the team's 5-0 start versus an all-Division I lineup. San Marino defeated Loyola (12-6), Palos Verdes (11-7), Troy (17-1) and Palos Verdes Peninsula (13-5).

Perhaps the pièce de résistance of the undefeated romp was a 15-3 victory over Harvard-Westlake, which was ranked No. 3 in Division I at the time, on March 5.

"That was pretty cool to go 5-0 against Division I teams," Wade said. "All the previous years, we lost to Harvard-Westlake and Palos Verdes. When we took down those big schools, I think we all kind of thought that this would be a special year."

Wade certainly did his part in the rout of Harvard-Westlake, winning all three of his sets, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.

"James really got us going in that match," Pereira said. "He wasn't one of the vocal leaders, like Mark Lew, the team's other senior, but he led us with his actions and play."

As the Titans rolled to another undefeated Rio Hondo League team championship, Wade also claimed his own individual title in defeating teammate Cheng, 6-2, 6-1 for his second consecutive league individual singles title on April 23 at Live Oak Park.

"Winning the title this year meant so much more than last year," Wade said. "After the end of last year, I recommitted myself to working harder on and off the court and proving to myself that I'm as good as anyone. That was my first step."

Only two days later, Wade took part in arguably the most important non-playoff action of the season at the 113th Ojai Valley Junior Tournament.

Wade, who advanced to the round of 16 last year before succumbing to Palm Desert's Abe Hewko 6-4, 5-7, 1-0 (3), ventured out further than even he anticipated.

Wade defeated Corey Karen of Santa Rosa Valley, 7-6, 6-1 in Friday morning's round of 16 action before rallying to defeat El Toro's Jayson Amos, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

"Last year, I was one of the last 16, so I set my goal to just get past that," Wade said. "Once I did, I really didn't know how far I'd get."

The victory over Amos put Wade in the semifinals and into the direct bulls-eye of the UCLA-bound Brymer, who dispatched the Titans' ace quickly, 6-0, 6-2.

The defeat let Wade somewhat flat.

"It's always a challenge to face Gage, but I was disappointed that I didn't play him well," Wade said. "You know he's always going to play well and you can't control that, but I still could have played better."

Undeterred, Wade led the Titans into the CIF-SS Division II postseason, where the team dropped a total of two games to Walnut, Hart, Esperanza and Santa Monica up through the semifinal round.

On May 17, Wade and San Marino faced off with two-time defending divisional champion Palm Desert in what both schools' coaches had predicted would be the final well before the season.

Yet, perhaps what wasn't expected was the score, as the Titans walloped the Aztecs, 13-5, to secure the program's 24th CIF title.

Maybe as impressive was Wade's 3-0 effort that Friday, which was capped by a dominating 6-0 win over Hewko, the same player who eliminated Wade from Ojai the previous season.

The meeting was not the final for the two, who met up exactly one week later in the semifinals of the CIF SoCal Regional Championships, also at the Claremont Club.

"Let me say something about that match. It's extremely difficult to not only have to beat the same team or person twice, but to have to beat that same team twice within a week's span," Pereira said. "The other team wants revenge and you have to fight complacency on your team.

"While I didn't have to worry about James not taking Abe seriously, I knew it was still going to be difficult to beat that caliber of player twice."

As fate would have it, Hewko and Wade met with a berth in the SoCal Regional Championship on the line. For the second time within seven days, Wade bested Hewko in a thrilling, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 victory.

"James works really hard and it was cool that he put us over the top," Titans junior doubles player Robert Carter said.

The next day, San Marino fell to its old nemesis University, 5-2, in the championship, while Wade lost round two versus Brymer, 6-1, 6-1.

Just as with his previous encounter with Brymer, success followed after the defeat.

Wade had no problem advancing past the first three rounds of the CIF-SS Individual Tournament on May 23 at Whittier Narrows.

His success vaulted him to the round of 16 at Seal Beach on May 31, where Wade both defeated Bay League champion Jake Douglas of Palos Verdes, 6-0, 6-1, and Century League champ Stefan Doehler of Foothill, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

The victory over Doehler vaulted Wade into Saturday's semifinals against Brymer once again.

Again, Brymer again defeated Wade, 6-3, 6-3 en route to the singles title. Yet, after this loss, there was satisfaction from the San Marino camp.

"I'm not sure I could have played him better than I did," said Wade, who finished 20-2 in the postseason. "I've never scored more than two points against him and to take three games alone in the first set was awesome."

The score also brought praise from Pereira.

"I told him since last year to just keep improving and he did that," Pereira said of Wade. "I couldn't have been more proud of him, because he did that and he accomplished the goal he set from last year, which was to prove he belonged with the best. Without Gage there, maybe he doesn't have the same type of season."

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