Boys' Tennis: Season ends in style for Brymer, Uni

SEAL BEACH — Anyone who was at Seal Beach Tennis Center on Saturday afternoon was able to witness history, both individual and team.

University High senior Gage Brymer rallied to defeat Rancho Cucamonga Alta Loma junior Victor Brown, 6-4, 6-0, capturing his third straight CIF Individuals singles title. Brymer staked his claim as the top boys' tennis player in Southern Section history.

The scary part is that the 2013 Trojans might be able to say the same thing as a team. It was an all-University doubles final as well. Junior Eric Tseng and sophomore Arash Hafezi upset their top-seeded teammates, senior Stefan Menichella and junior Drew Dawson, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1).

It was the second time in the history of CIF Individuals that the singles champion and the two doubles finalists all came from the same school. La Jolla was the other school to accomplish the feat in 1958.

For the Trojans, widely considered the top team in the country, it was a fitting ending to an undefeated season that saw them capture CIF Southern Section Division 1, SoCal Regional and National High School All-American Tournament titles.

"There's a team in Illinois, Hinsdale, that won the DecoTurf tournament in Kentucky," Uni Coach John Kessler said. "I looked up their lineup, and at the top they have good guys, but you can't go [to Nos.] 10, 11, 12 with us. You can't. It's impossible. I don't know if there's a better high school team ever.

"You know, Drew should have been an All-American, and that's four All-Americans [including Brymer (UCLA), Menichella (Pepperdine) and Yale-bound senior Tyler Lu] on one team. Then you have guys like [Tseng and Hafezi] who aren't All-American. How can there possibly be a better team? … Everyone could have four great guys, but they don't have 10 great guys."

Brymer, who beat San Marino senior James Wade, 6-3, 6-3, in the semifinals, has been a great guy throughout his prep career. He lost just three times in four years, none as a junior or senior. He was undefeated since losing to CdM's Shane Korber, now at Georgetown, in a 2011 Pacific Coast League match.

But Brymer was down to the lefty Brown, 4-1, in the first set of the final. On the changeover, Kessler gave him some advice.

"There are guys who are going to bring it for a game, two games, three games," Kessler said. "I always tell Gage, 'It's not about the opponent, it's all about you. Let's go back to what we do, move your feet to cut down his reaction time.' Then he won 11 straight games … he went to another level.

"It might be the greatest individual performance in the history of CIF tennis. Four team [titles], three Ojais, two All-Americans, three of these? What else can you do? Who is better than him in the country? You see Wade bring it for three games, you see Victor bring it for four games, but [Brymer] brings it every tournament."

Saturday was a special day for Brymer. He became just the third player to capture three Individuals singles titles; the others were Allen Cleveland (1949-51) and Jackie Douglas ('52-54) of Santa Monica. Incredibly, Brymer did not drop a single set in his three Individuals tournament victories.

Brymer also is the first-ever player to win both three Ojai titles and three Individuals titles. He has been a mainstay on a Trojans team that did not lose a dual match in his time at the school.

On Saturday night, he said he planned to go to University's prom at the Bell Tower in Rancho Santa Margarita. Events like that are special for Brymer, who has had to sacrifice a good amount of his social life to keep his tennis at such a high level.

But everything paid off. He leaves a legacy that is hard to match.

"It's great," said Brymer, the top-ranked junior player in the nation. "I think this is definitely the right way to end it, with the team winning the CIF [Southern Section Division 1] championship and the [SoCal Regional] championship, and myself winning the Individual singles. And we've got both Uni teams over there in the Individual doubles [final]. I think it was the perfect way to end the year.

"Because there's been so much tennis at the end of the season, I haven't really got to take some time to think about it. I've always been thinking about the next match. Now that the season is over and I have a little break from competition, I think it's going to give me a chance to look back at the last four years and really appreciate it."

Tseng and Hafezi fell behind 4-0 in the first set to Dawson and Menichella. Dawson, a Notre Dame commit who won the Individuals doubles title in 2011, was making his third straight appearance in the final.

Tseng and Hafezi rallied in the set before falling, 6-4. But they had answers in the second and third sets. In the third-set tiebreaker, they lost the first point before rattling off seven in a row.

"Just because we know [Menichella and Dawson] so well, it takes away some of the stress and tension," Hseng said. "When we were down 0-4 it was just great to get on the scoreboard. We just kind of went with the flow, and tried to play our game."

Kessler said he felt disappointed Menichella's high school career ended in that matter. But Tseng and Hafezi stepped up in the big moments. They topped Harvard-Westlake's Harrison Kalt and Dylan Eisner, 6-4, 6-4, in the doubles semifinals earlier Saturday. Menichella and Dawson got past Cam Marco and Vastal Bajpai of Los Alamitos, 6-3, 7-5.

"I just think it's a testament to the program," Kessler said. "I think Stef and Drew were the overwhelming favorites, but [Hafezi and Tseng], they come every day. Yeah, we allow some of our top guys to do their own thing, but we have 70 boys who we work really hard with. They played great doubles.

"The crazy thing is, they were losing 5-4 to [teammates Garrett] Kurtz and [Konrad] Kozlowski [in the Pacific Coast League semifinals] and Kurtz cramped. That's another team. I think it just shows how deep we are … Eric's always my steady guy, and Arash, today he had a wanting to win that I haven't seen him have all the time. I think that was the difference."

The difference between University and the rest of the teams in CIF, if not the country, remained crystal clear.

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