Sage in driver's seat

NEWPORT BEACH — Friends told Andrew Kurzweil to wait until after his tennis match Friday to see if he got into his dream college.

Kurzweil didn't listen. The Sage Hill School senior checked on his phone earlier in the day to find out he had been accepted to Amherst College in Massachusetts.

"They have like a 6 or 7% acceptance rate this year," Kurzweil said of Amherst, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. "I knew the odds were against me, but I ended up checking. I couldn't wait."

On the court, Kurzweil helped the Lightning make the Academy League race look more and more, well, academic.

Sage Hill beat Whitney, 12-6, at The Tennis Club Newport Beach. The Lightning, who have never won an outright league title in boys' tennis, opened up a two-match lead over both Whitney and rival St. Margaret's.

Kurzweil said he plans to play tennis at Amherst, a Division III school. This year the Lightning (8-5, 4-0 in league) are also a top Division III school in the CIF Southern Section, ranked No. 3. Kurzweil said the team wants to do well in all three phases of the season: preseason, league play and CIF. They're off to a strong start after recording the program's first wins over Santa Margarita and Newport Harbor and also starting league strong. Tuesday's 13-5 victory over St. Margaret's was the program's biggest win over its rival.

"That's just going to help us build confidence going into the playoffs," said Kurzweil, who swept at No. 2 singles Friday. "We're taking care of business now. We really feel like we can go all the way and we're proving it."

The only other time Sage Hill won the league title was in 2008, co-champions with Whitney. But Whitney (8-3, 2-2), ranked No. 5 in Division III, has won the league title outright each of the past two years.

"They're always tough," Lightning Coach A.G. Longoria said. "Last year, on a Monday we were ranked No. 1 in Division IV. On a Tuesday, they popped us, 13-5. We proceeded to drop out of the top 10 before we got it together and came back to get to the semifinals."

But this year Longoria has the more experienced team; Whitney Coach Wes Williams said he has just one junior and no seniors. Sage's No. 1 doubles team of senior Kevin Marshack and junior Alex Manolakas also swept Friday, just as they did when Sage won on games at Whitney in the teams' first meeting March 22. The other doubles teams, Sean Batten and Eric Magliarditi as well as Nasier Emtiaz and Ryan Lee, each won two of three sets for the Lightning.

Marshack and Manolakas stormed back from a 4-2 deficit in their final set to defeat Whitney's Alex Pham and Gabe Cupino, 6-4.

"We're picking up from where we left off last year," Marshack said. "We're definitely firing on all cylinders. If my serve's not going in he picks me up, and vice versa. We really just feed off each other so well."

A big difference from the first Whitney match was that this time the Lightning had the services of their top singles player, Robbe Simon. The junior has been battling shoulder tendonitis this year but returned to match action this week. He's serving the ball underhand, but that didn't stop him from winning two sets.

The Lightning were able to sub Simon out in the third round. After he won his second set against Viggie Sadras, the Lightning had a 10-3 lead and had already clinched the match.

Sage still has six league matches left and Batten said the team can't get cocky, like it did last year. But the three seniors who were on varsity the last time Sage Hill won league – Batten, Kurzweil and Marshack – know winning it outright would be an accomplishment.

"It'd be really special," Marshack said. "We were the only three freshmen back on the team in 2007, and it's gone completely full circle. But we still have matches to play – it's not over yet."

Also Friday, the Southern Section office released entrants for the Ojai Tournament beginning April 28. Simon will play singles for Sage, with Kurzweil and Manolakas as a doubles team.

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