NEWPORT BEACH — CIF stands for California Interscholastic Federation. The three letters followed by the word playoffs, however, mean so much more.
It means character will be built. It means teenagers will emerge as heroes or just young men looking at defeat. It means memories will be made and for many, those memories will be there last in a competitive sport.
CIF is tragedy or triumph, but never both.
The Sage Hill School boys' tennis competed in a CIF Southern Section Division IV semifinal against Rowland High and experienced all that comes with phrase, CIF playoffs.
The two teams tied, nine sets apiece and were also knotted at 53 games each. They were forced battle in a super tiebreaker Tuesday at The Tennis Club. This meant one more round of 18 one-game tiebreaker sets. The first to win 10 games wins the set.
After the super tiebreaker round, the teams had competed for 4 hours and 31 minutes. Rowland pulled away from Sage Hill in the super tiebreaker, 11-7, ending the Lightning's season in dramatic fashion.
"It's hard," said Alex Koeberle, a team captain and Sage Hill's only senior starter. "Last year I thought we came as close as you possible can, then lost. But to come back with this, and it may be weird to say, but I thought it was an incredible match. If I had to lose in my senior season, I guess it would have to be like this."
The Lightning (16-13) lost to the Raiders (22-2) in the semifinals two years ago and lost to Cerritos last year in semifinals as well. Rowland beat Cerritos last week and is now reaching the final for the second time in three years.
The Raiders are no slouches and brought firepower to each court. But Sage Hill, like it has done all year long, did not back down.
"At this point, I think [Rowland] is the best team left," Coach A.G. Longoria said after the match. "But who would have thought after starting out 0-8 we make it the semifinals? We only have one senior starter compared to last year's six starting seniors. But, this team refused to give up. It was a really tough match and I am proud of this group."
After the first go-around, the teams were tied at three sets apiece and 24 games each. The teams split again in the second go-around, and were tied, 6-6, but the Raiders landed one more game and were up, 49-48. The final round featured crucial points in every game and set.
As a matter of fact, it came down to the very last points. Koeberle and doubles teammate Kevin Marshack needed to win their final set to tie and send the scoring into the amount of games won. Not only that, they needed to hold their opponents to only five games.
In this situation, the ideal tandem was in control. Koeberle and Marshack were clutch throughout the set. But when it came to who was going to make the big shot, neither was able to because Kevin Wong of Rowland double faulted twice in a row to end the set and push it to a tiebreaker.
Unfortunately for Sage, Rowland would make no such mistake in the super tiebreaker.
"I'm really proud of my guys," Koeberle said. "We really picked it up in the last two rounds and played big tennis. To go down 5-1 in the first tiebreak round and to come back in the second and give us a chance was really impressive. This is the youngest team ever for Sage and I think they are going to be really good next year."
The semifinal round has now become a hill the Lightning will have to climb and after such a close loss in such a big match, it appears Sage Hill is just one step away. Unfortunately, that step will have to be taken next year.