University dominates PCL championships


IRVINE – University sophomore Stefan Menichella was not in a good place during his semifinal match with Corona del Mar's Shane Korber on Thursday during the Pacific Coast League championships at University High.

“I was freaking out a little bit,” Menichella said.

His two-game lead over Korber had vanished, and with Menichella now trailing 6-5 in the first set, University coach John Kessler pulled his player aside.

Kessler laid out a simple plan in simple language:

1. Hold serve and win the next game; 2. Win the tiebreak; 3. Finish the match and get to the CIF-SS individual tournament.

After the talk, Menichella won the next 11 points, setting up an all-University final with Gage Brymer, clinching a trip to the CIF-SS individual tournament.

“As a coach, you always try to figure out the right thing to say,” Kessler said. “It’s not always easy. It just happened to be the right thing for him. He needed to hear that.”

Brymer went on to win the league championship, 8-5, but University will send six players to the CIF-SS Boys Individual Tennis Finals. Brymer, Menichella, doubles champions Kona Luu and Drew Dawson and runners-up Ryo Shimizu and Tyler Lu will all be in the field that determines the section champions.

“This was the goal, but you have to be careful because there are a lot of good players in this league,” Kessler said. “This wasn’t just a goal we kind of threw out there. This was a tough goal to accomplish.

“To come out of this league, the best in California, if not the country, and to take two singles and two doubles, it’s unbelievable. What can you say?”

Brymer will enter the CIF-SS individual championships as the favorite after winning at Ojai, the Easter Bowl and the PCL championship in the last month.

“Gage just goes to another level that I don’t know if many other people have,” Kessler said.

Still, Brymer was pushed hard Thursday, first by Woodbridge’s Patrick Lipscomb in the semis and later by Menichella.

“I’m glad he’s on my team,” Brymer said. “It’s frustrating when you hit, two, three, four big shots and they come back. You have to be patient and be able to not over hit. His defense is really tough.”

The final match was tight until Brymer surged to a three-game lead in the eight-game championship set.

Despite losing in the finals, Menichella said he liked the look of seeing his teammate on the court with a championship on the line.

“Gage is a great player, and I was able to keep it tight with him,” Menichella said. “…I think Gage and I could end up in the final of CIF. We’d have to perform every match, but it could be another all-Uni final.

“I want another crack at him.”

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