Girls’ tennis: Deep Hebron ruling the MAISAD

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Hebron Academy girls’ tennis coach Colin Griggs, center, is surrounded by his 2017 team, from left: Maddy New, Lauren Rousseau, Lena Olszewska, Griggs, Tounarouze El Yazidi, Hina Koharazawa, Xinyuan “Emma” Xu and Kirari Nakai.

HEBRON — When it comes to MAISAD conference play, all the Hebron Academy girls’ tennis team knows how to do is win.

The Lumberjacks have won five straight MAISAD (Maine Association of Independent School Athletic Directors) titles, and in 2016 were invited to play in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council’s Class D round-robin tournament after going 9-0 in the regular season.

Currently, Hebron is riding a 26-match MAISAD regular-season win streak, dating back to 2013 when it lost to Kents Hill 3-2.

MAISAD is comprised of prep schools in Maine, including Kents Hill, Gould Academy, Bridgeton Academy, Fryeburg Academy, Hyde School and North Yarmouth Academy (tennis teams compete in the MPA).

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Lumberjacks coach Colin Griggs credits the depth he has had.

“The biggest success has been the well-rounded nature of the lineup, from top from bottom,” Griggs said. “We have had strong number ones, and we also have had strong doubles teams that have competed well at MAISAD in our MAISAD doubles competition.

“For three straight years — at the end of each season — we have a singles and doubles tournament in our league. For three straight years our number one and number two doubles teams have been the two best teams in the league. That makes a big difference; when you are looking at a match that has five total matches (three singles matches and two double matches), you are a leg up right away. That shows a deep roster.”

As a private boarding school, the Lumberjacks’ roster is comprised of student-athletes from all over the world, including Morocco, Japan, Poland and Hong Kong — in addition to three local kids from Auburn, Poland and Hebron. Griggs usually doesn’t know what the talent level is going to be until practice gets underway in the spring.

“Most seasons we don’t — from time-to-time we have a kid who’s interested in tennis, but until they actually get out here in the spring, we don’t know much about them from our new students,” Griggs said. “We always have students who are athletes who compete in other sports. That goes for boys and girls across the school, they compete in other sports. When it gets to spring, if they don’t necessarily have a sport, athletes are coming out to play tennis.”

Griggs has also been a key to the Lumberjacks success, as he’s in his sixth season coaching the girls’ team, with which he has a 44-7 overall. Prior to his arrival, Hebron didn’t win a match in 2011, and had only won the MAISAD in 2009 and 2001.

He had to build the program back up when he took the position. He’s also trying to the same with boys’ team this year, his first as the boys’ coach. The boys, who are 4-0 this season, haven’t won a MAISAD title since they went back-to-back in 2000-01.

This years’ girls’ team only has two returning players who saw regular playing time last year, sophomores Leah Bonis (Hebron) and Hina Koharazawa (Toshimaku, Japan). The majority of the team is made up of sophomores, such as Tounarouze El Yazidi (Marraketch, Morocco), Kirari Nakai (Anjo, Japan) and Xinyuan “Emma” Xu (Hong Kong). Rounding out the squad are seniors in Lauren Rousseau (Auburn) and Lena Olszewska (Warsaw, Poland), and junior Maddy New (Poland, Maine).

Going to New England’s in 2016 helped boost the Lumberjacks’ confidence going into this season, and thus far they have compiled a 4-1 record. The lone loss came in the first match of the season to Berwick Academy in a non-conference contest.

“The season has been going really good so far,” Bonis said. “We beat Kents Hill last week and we won like our 24th MAISAD match in a row. The success from last year was incredible, but we lost so many players that we only have two (returners). It’s kind of weird rebuilding a whole new team, but we are doing really well so far.”

While they are young, they are talented. El Yazidi is the team’s No. 1 singles’ player. Her older sister, Tilila, was Hebron’s top player in 2016. Tilila has moved onto Elmira College, where she was named Rookie of the Year in Empire Eight Conference this past fall.

Tounarouze knew she had to continue the standard her sister set during her time at Hebron.

“My sister and I have been playing tennis since I was 3,” Tounarouze said. “Tennis really is our thing, and my sister said she loved it here. I said, ‘Why not? I love tennis too.’ I thought it was a perfect opportunity to come play tennis here.

“My sister and I are very competitive, so I am trying to beat her record and trying to hold up to her standards.”

With five of the eight players being sophomores, the future looks bright for the girls’ team, which considers itself a tight-knit group.

“We see each other a lot during the day,” Bonis said. “We are very involved with each other, you would say. If someone loses a match, it’s not necessarily a big deal — pick yourself up, it’s just one match.”

nfournier@sunjournal.com

Hebron Academy No. 1 singles player Tounarouze El Yazidi returns a shot at the net during last Thursday’s practice.

Hebron Academy’s Xinyuan “Emma” Xu returns a shot at the net during last Thursday’s practice.

Hebron Academy No. 1 singles player Tounarouze El Yazidi returns a shot at the net during Thursday’s practice.

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