Lightning strikes three times for Sage Hill School boys’ tennis

The Sage Hill School boys' tennis team holds up the CIF championship plaque Friday afternoon.
The Sage Hill School boys’ tennis team holds up the CIF championship plaque as they celebrate after winning the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title at the Claremont Club on Friday.
(James Carbone)

Seemingly everywhere the Sage Hill School boys’ tennis team looked on Friday at the Claremont Club, familiarity reigned at the CIF Southern Section championships.

The Lightning took their lumps a bit this season in their first year in the Pacific Coast League, finishing 5-9. But saying the league was tough would be a bit of an understatement.

It sent four teams to Friday’s finals in the three highest divisions. University won the Open Division title match. Portola beat Beckman for the Division 1 title, while Sage Hill competed for the Division 2 crown.

None of Sage Hill’s players had competed for a CIF title before, yet they had already been through the battles in league play.

Shaan Sakraney, left, returns a serve with partner Eddie Yang for Sage Hill boys' tennis in Friday's CIF title match.
(James Carbone)

“It toughened us up, ultimately,” Sage Hill coach Whit Kenerson said. “I guess it turned out to be a good thing for us. Every match is a battle in the PCL.”

Sage Hill came out on top when it mattered most, riding a strong singles lineup to a 10-8 win over JSerra in the Division 2 title match on Friday.

It’s the Lightning’s third CIF championship in program history, and first since 2019.

A member of that 2019 team, Rohun Krishnan, was there Friday to cheer on his alma mater. He saw singles dominance like he used to attain for the Lightning.

Sage Hill's Ian Jiang makes a return for the Lightning in Friday's CIF title match.
(James Carbone)

Seniors Grant Gallagher and Ian Jiang each swept in singles with “triple bagels” — three 6-0 sets. Freshman William Chen also swept for top-seeded Sage Hill (18-9).

No. 2-seeded JSerra (20-3), which had lost to Sage Hill by the same score in a nonleague match on April 22, switched up its strategy in the CIF title match. The Lions put their top singles player, Brady Schaefgen, at No. 1 doubles, in an attempt to sweep all nine doubles sets.

But Sage’s No. 1 team of senior Shaan Sakraney and junior Eddie Yang beat Schaefgen and Charles Vogel, 6-3, in the first round.

“I think we tried not to psych ourselves out about it,” Sakraney said. “We just tried to play our game, and I think staying aggressive at the net and keeping the pressure on them made it a little bit harder for Brady to get as many individual looks at shots. I’m really happy that we were able to pull that first-round out pretty cleanly.”

Sage Hill's No. 3 doubles team of Jimmy Chen, left, and Ali Rawal compate during Friday's CIF title match in Claremont.
(James Carbone)

Though JSerra did win eight doubles sets — the teams of Gary Davidson and Connor Faul, as well as Zach Champine and Cade Faul, both swept — that first doubles set made a difference for the champions.

“The first one was definitely monumental,” Gallagher said. “Once we got that one, I think we were a little bit more loose in singles. Going 9-9, no matter what, it’s always scary. It can go either way.”

Sage Hill had the benefit of rallying to win a 9-9 match in the Division 2 semifinals at Chino Hills Ayala on Wednesday. Kenerson said he told his players they had a second life, and to take advantage of it in the title match two days later.

Sage Hill's Shaan Sakraney celebrates a win against JSerra on Friday in the Division 2 title match.
(James Carbone)

They did rise to the occasion yet again.

“It’s a great memory,” Kenerson said. “I told them it’s something they’ll have the rest of their lives. We’ll put the plaque up at Sage, and when they come back any time in the future they’ll see that.”

Sakraney, one of five seniors along with Gallagher, Jiang, Tyler Peters and Adi Rawal, said it was definitely a memorable end to his high school career.

“I’ve been thinking about going far with the team since freshman year, sort of building off what had happened in 2019,” Sakraney said. “Coming into the school knowing they had just gotten a CIF win under their belts, at least for me, made it a little bit more of a possibility and something that I wanted to aspire to. I’m glad we could come together and make that a reality this year.”

The Sage Hill School boys' tennis team and coaches pose for a picture with the CIF championship plaque.
The Sage Hill School boys’ tennis team and coaches pose for a picture with the CIF championship plaque after winning against JSerra on Friday.
(James Carbone)