Girls’ tennis: Dirigo adds much-needed depth

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Dirigo High School girl’s tennis coach Art Chamberlain works on backhand technique with his team at the high school in Dixfield. 

The Dirigo girls’ tennis program was short on players in 2016 and forced them to forfeit a few matches which led to their 1-11 record.

Coach Art Chamberlain knew he had a some good players on his roster and that the Cougars could have won a few more matches 3-2 if they just had a complete team. So he, along with returning senior Gina Kubesh and junior Carleen Hutchinson put on their recruiting hats this fall and winter in an effort to get other girls to join.

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It worked.

Chamberlain is in his second stint as the girls’ tennis coach — he originally coached the team for 31 seasons before stepping down in 2013. He returned in 2015 to help out the program as it was potentially getting cut from the budget. Last year was he was back as head coach. He relied on friends and other community members who were hosting exchange students to see if they would be interested in joining. He got three in juniors Thanvinee “Aim” Panyanonwat, Form Bhatt and Greta Freiburger.

Frieburger has had experience playing tennis and will be competing for a ladder spot, while Panyanonwat and Bhatt are new to the sport. Frieburger also will run track and field this season.

Kubesh and Hutchinson recruited seven other players: senior Brittany Greig, juniors Katelyn Ellis and Cassidy Packard, sophomore Sophia Jacques and freshmen Adrianna Belskis, Haley Leavitt and Alyssa McTyre.

“Yes, it’s super nice, we definitely struggled a lot last year with numbers,” Kubesh said. “Now, we almost have almost double, which is pretty sweet.”

Kubesh was the No. 1 player all of 2016, and was one of eight players, which including five seniors. She’s particularly happy with the number of underclassmen they were able to recruit because she didn’t want to see the program be a topic of budget-cut talks again.

“I am definitely excited because can make a stronger team this way,” Kubesh added. “We will be able to make sure we have a team next year, because I was worried the program was going to die off. But I am very hopeful for this season.”

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, having to forfeit some of those matches.

“It was pretty much an embarrassment sometimes last year,” Chamberlain said. “We had to call off a couple of matches and postpone a couple of matches. The MPA doesn’t like it and you have to make a showing. The other coaches were understanding, but, like I said, we only had a full roster twice for 12 matches.”

Among the 10 players they were able to recruit are a pair who played softball last season, Greig and Jacques.

Greig started out playing tennis in 2016 before ultimately deciding to take her talents to the diamond. A new coach, Scott Underhill, is taking over the softball program this year, and after having new coaches in the fall and winter sports she plays, Greig wanted some familiarity with a coach in the final athletic season of her high school career.

“I had two brand new coaches for soccer and basketball,” Greig said. “I didn’t want to make it a brand new coach for a third sport for my senior year. So I was like, ‘I am going to play tennis because I know Art and I like to be competitive.’ So I wanted to do (an individual) sport.”

John Shaw took over the soccer program and Rebecca Fletcher was the new basketball coach this season.

Jacques, on the other hand, joined the tennis team because she was looking at the future, when her years as a high school athlete are a distant memory.

“Well, I really thought because tennis is a life-long sport, it would be something new,” Jacques said. “I am always up for the challenge. So I figured why not try something new and have fun with it?”

Jacques was approached by Chamberlain at the beginning of last season to play, but he reached out a little too late as she already had signed up for softball and she wanted to honor that commitment. Chamberlain was somewhat surprised to see her sign up for tennis this year.

Since two softball players came over to the tennis team, the softball team was also actively recruiting girls to join that team this year. The tennis team would have had 11 recruits, but junior Morgan Morrow, who was slated to play tennis and track and field, decided to play softball instead.

Senior Ariel Amburg, who was scheduled to return, decided to instead focus on school and her new job.

While a good chunk of them have never played tennis in a competitive environment, Chamberlain has seen improvement from the newcomers just from the work they’ve done inside the gym during the preseason.

“Everyday I see improvement,” he said. “It’s nice to have the three returners, Brittany (Greig) —  even though she started in tennis and went back to softball last year — I’ve seen enough of her on the court to know she will fill right in and help. That gives me four with some experience. They are helping out the others. “

While the team is focused on being more competitive this year, Chamberlain hopes the returners and new players enjoy their time together and have fun.

“I am a big believer in that,” Chamberlain said. “They don’t need another pressure cooker. I try to have high expectations, but at the same time making it a laid back, fun atmosphere for them.”

nfournier@sunjournal.com

Gina Kubesh of Dirigo High School returns a shot during practice at the high school in Dixfield. 

Dirigo High School junior Katelyn Ellis shares a laugh with her teammates during tennis practice. 

Sophia Jacques of Dirigo High School returns a shot during practice at the high school in Dixfield. 

The Dirigo High School girl’s tennis team had to convince some of their student colleagues to join the team in order to compete this spring. 

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