San Marino boys’ tennis earns another crown

San Marino High School's tennis player James Wade, center, holds the 2013 CIF Div. II, Boys Tennis Championship trophy along with the rest of the team after defeating Palm Desert High School at the Claremont Club in Claremont, Ca., on Friday, May 17, 2013. The team won 13-5.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

CLAREMONT — Only one team all season long appeared to stand in the way of perfection for the San Marino High boys’ tennis program.

It was believed that second-seeded Palm Desert, the two-time defending divisional champion, would be that squad at Friday’s morning’s CIF Southern Section Division II title match at the Claremont Club.

Yet, after two rounds of play, what became evident to an audience at Claremont was that the only competition for San Marino this season will have to come from outside the division, as the Titans led by six sets after two rounds en route to cruising a 13-5 divisional championship.

The crown completes a divisional sweep for Rio Hondo League-champion San Marino (19-0), which also won the Division II girls’ crown in the fall. The championship is also the 24th for the boys’ program in 32 attempts since the first win in 1956 and marks the seventh decade in which San Marino has claimed a title.

“I expected this. I expected to win, but I was surprised with the score,” Titans Coach Melwin Pereira said. “I was nervous. Even in my best projections I had this being close, but we made some changes and everything worked out better than I could have ever planned.”

Like in his girls’ team’s surprising 14-4 victory over Arcadia in the Division II championship, Pereira made several swaps that shook up both his singles and doubles rotations.

Singles ace James Wade, who is heading to UC Davis in the fall, was dropped from first to third in the rotation, while Vincent Cheng, who played doubles with Mark Lew and hadn’t seen any singles action since the 18-0 opening round win over Walnut, was moved into the No. 1 singles spot.

Lew, who normally played third doubles, paired with Timothy Duong to form the No. 1 doubles team, while the usual No. 1 doubles squad of Robert Carter and Ryan Cheng was moved to No. 2.

All this strategizing proved a wild success, as San Marino increased a 4-2 advantage over Palm Desert (19-2) through one round into a 9-3 stranglehold after two rounds thanks to an unbelievable 5-1 second round.

Perhaps the most memorable victory during that stretch was a 6-4 victory from Daniel Gealer over Aztecs singles standout Abe Hewko, a CIF Southern Section Individual Tournament quarterfinalist from a year ago.

Gealer broke serve in a 4-4 set that vaulted him to the victory.

“That was big. I wasn’t there to see it, but that was huge,” Pereira said.

The very next set of the match clinched the championship when Carter, one half of the reigning All-Area Boys’ Doubles Team of the Year along with Gealer, and Ryan Cheng rallied to defeat Palm Desert’s No. 3 combo of Ryan Marker and Matt Leggat, 6-0.

The victory gave the Titans the magical 10th point.

“I didn’t know when we started that we’d be playing for the game-winning set,” Carter said. “But when I saw James jumping up and down, I knew something was up.”

Marker and Leggat actually led, 40-15, in the first game before Carter and Ryan Cheng rallied to take the game and eventually the set.

“Palm Desert stacked it to where they were supposed to be strongest in the second round and when they struggled, that was it,” Ryan Cheng said.

Wade, a round of 16 qualifier last year, then took his turn at Hewko to the tune of a 6-0 win.

“There was no pacing of energy because I’m in great shape and was ready for every set,” Wade said. “We were all ready today.”

Gealer and Wade each finished 3-0, while Vincent Cheng, who Pereira said “was supposed to just tire out Hewko and [No. 2 singles player Austin] Rapp,” picked up his own 7-5 win.

On the doubles side, Carter and Cheng finished 3-0, while Nicholas Splichal and Derek Chen were 2-1 and Lew and Duong finished 1-2.

With the win, San Marino also earned a berth to next week’s Southern California Regional playoffs.