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O.C. boys tennis season preview
Whether Sage Hill likes it or not, its days of being dismissed as nothing more than an academically rich, private school that just so happens to field a tennis team are long gone.
That's what winning a CIF-SS boys tennis title will do to a program.
"By winning league consistently and winning a CIF title last year, we've become a respected team in Orange County," Lightning coach A.G. Longoria says. "We've sort of earned our stripes over the years and understand now that we're not going to sneak up on anyone like we used to."
With last year's flawless run through the Academy League and subsequent championship run through CIF-SS Division 3, Sage Hill has successfully completed the 11-year-long transformation from boys tennis newbie to boys tennis juggernaut.
"Initially we were good enough that bigger schools wanted to play us for a solid match, but no one thought that we would actually threaten them," Longoria says. "But then we started getting better each year and started knocking those same teams off.
"Now we've gotten to the point where we always have a good chance of beating the bigger schools when we play them."
As the only boys tennis coach the Lightning has ever known, the program's ascension to prominence is a testament to Longoria's undying commitment and seasoned coaching.
"When I started (coaching) I was a very young person coaching college tennis," the two-time California High School Tennis Coach of the Year says. "I had some great mentors and applied what I learned from them to this program."
A big reason Sage Hill is primed for a second consecutive title run is the return of standout senior and top singles player Robbe Simon, who is, according to the coach who has watched him evolve over the years, "The best player we've ever had, men or women."
And the praise doesn't stop there.
"Robbe's a unique individual in that he's team-oriented," Longoria says of the reigning Academy League Most Valuable Player. "He has a very balanced look at the game and at himself. As a matter of fact, last year he was much more interested in winning a team (CIF) title than an individual one.
"He's just one of those rare players that loves to win more than he hates to lose."
With Longoria, Simon and top doubles player Alex Manolakas guiding an experienced Sage Hill team on a voyage toward another pair of championships this season, it'll be difficult to overlook the small private school – with an enrollment of less than 500 students -- in Newport Coast.
Especially when they're playing – and beating – the big boys.
"We've started tradition here," Longoria says. "A lot of players who came here over the years came here for academics, then tennis.
"Now people come here for tennis first, and we're really proud of that."