HS Tennis: Big shoes to fill

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LEWISTON — Emilie Cloutier is quick to admit it. Scott Gagne isn’t far behind.

The pair of tennis players faced the unenviable task this season of playing in the top position for their respective and equally-vaunted Lewiston High School tennis teams, one year after each squad graduated one of the better players each had produced in the last decade.

“Someone had to follow Chantalle (Lavertu, Lewiston’s top player each of the last four years),” Cloutier said. “That was me. “I don’t bring the same thing to the table at all.”

“Obviously there’s going to be some pressure on you, because Mike Butler (the boys’ top player last season) is an amazing tennis player,” Gagne said. “You just really can’t think too much about it, not psych yourself out that you’re playing No. 1 and go into each match with  positive attitude.”

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Both Butler and Lavertu left big holes in the teams’ lineups. Lavertu was consistently ranked in the top four in Maine on the girls’ side, and Butler, by his senior year, was in the top five. Both of them brought near-automatic points from the No. 1 position in almost every match they played.

“Chantalle was, we knew going into matches we had a point every time,” Lewiston girls’ coach Anita Murphy said. “Our concentration then was working on doubles, and trying to get at least a point from the doubles and one from either of the other singles players.”

Butler had a tougher road, with many of the Blue Devils’ rivals putting up a top-flight contender, from Eliot Potvin at Hampden, to Mike Hill at Mt. Ararat.

“We’ve always had to have two and three win, because we had those top players in our draw against Michael,” boys’ coach Ron Chicoine said. “But we’ve had the twos and threes to step in and win those big ones. Otherwise, Michael was there with a point in our regular-season matches.”

Cloutier’s style is far different from Lavertu’s, too. The former plays to consistency, the latter was overpowering.

“I’m such a different player than she is,” Cloutier said. “It’s different, and I think I can give other players problems in different ways than she did. It’s just different.”

Cloutier’s lone losses this year have been a pair to Brunswick’s top player, an exchange student.

Gagne, meanwhile, has also dispatched all comers, save for Brunswick’s ranked No. 1 Kyle Mersereau, and each of those matches went to three sets.

“He’s been consistent, especially for a seasonal player,” Chicoine said. “He’s playing well this year, he’s starting to come around.”

Both teams, though, prepared for their stars’ departures by backloading the team with depth players. And it’s worked in spades. No fewer than 15 players have participated in at least one varsity match for the Lewiston boys’ team, and the girls are right around 10.

And the players themselves appreciate the depth behind them.

“We know we can almost expect a point from our first doubles every time,” Cloutier said, “and our third singles player has usually been strong. Our middle three, no matter what, are usually capable of winning their points, and that’s a lot less pressure for me.”

“It’s kind of backwards this year,” Gagne said. “Last year, we knew that in most matches, we only needed two more points after Mike. Now, we know our doubles teams are so strong, it takes some of the pressure off.”

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