HS tennis: Long road back starts with numbers

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AUBURN — Four years ago, Greg Vincent had some hard-core recruiting to do.

“I had nine kids that year, and I had to recruit two exchange students who’d never played before,” Vincent said. “That was a long year, we could just barely field a team.”

Early Friday, with the tennis courts at Edward Little High School still damp from an overnight rain, and another front of clouds looming on the horizon, 19 student-athletes flooded the dampened courts. And there were seven missing.

“Right now, we’re carrying 26, but without the six courts, I don’t think we could do that,” Vincent said. “I hate to cut anybody, especially when you see improvement already, and especially the freshmen. You see that growth, and then by junior year, you have some varsity-level players.”

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It’s a far cry from their brothers in sport across the river in Lewiston, where the Blue Devils always seem to rebuild and reload at the same time. But the Eddies are getting there. Vincent sees it, and the players see it.

“Oh, we know we’re not that good,” senior captain and No. 1 singles player Clark Chamberlin said, evoking laughter from his co-captains, Christian Mitchell and Derrick Lacasse. “Honestly, our goal this season, we want to improve on last year.”

One year ago, with a rough schedule, Edward Little won four of 12 matches.

“They’ve changed the schedule a little bit,” Vincent said. “It used to be, you had Lewiston, Brunswick and Mt. Ararat, the three-headed monster and we’d play them twice each and it was basically six losses right away. We still have Lewiston twice, but the rest of the schedule is different, and you’re not going in right away thinking it’s over before it starts.”

That, the players said, is important, given the makeup of this year’s squad, which is almost entirely returning in a year’s time.

“You look around at all of the freshmen and sophomores out here who’d never picked up a racket, and you see how much they’ve improved already,” co-captain Christian Mitchell said.

Part of that commitment is playing the sport more than in just the eight short weeks that encompass the Maine spring sports season.

“It’s all about playing,” Vincent said. “A lot of these kids now, they’re staying after practice and coming out to hit on their own. Before, I wouldn’t have anyone play, but now, I come down here in the offseason, or when we don’t have practice, and they’re out here. I think the guys are a lot more into it.”

“It’s definitely exciting,” Chamberlin said. “I wish we had a feeder program, but the seventh- and eighth-graders do now, and that’s going to help. In the years to come, I feel like these guys are going to start playing more, and the team will be much better.”

Friday, as the sky started to spit rain again, there were 18 other players on the courts who shared Chamberlin’s sentiment, and likely six more who couldn’t make it on that day.

And anyone doing simple math knows, 26 is greater than nine.

“We’re working hard because tennis is fun,” Chamberlin said. “We’re not out here trying to beat everybody, we’re out here trying to get better every day.”

2010 Sun Journal boys’ tennis overview

Eastern Class A

There has never been a run so dominant in Maine high school tennis as Lewiston’s in recent years. Since taking over in 2003, coach Ron Chicoine has led the Blue Devils to seven consecutive state titles, and the team has only one loss in a match, a loss to Deering in the regular season in 2003 that they then avenged in the state final.

Lewiston is different this year, in that, for the first time since the run began, there is no clear cut dominant force at the top of the lineup. But the Devils will kill teams with depth. The team has 10 players who could all at some point play in the lineup this year, maybe more, and many of them would be singles players at most schools. The Blue Devils will again be the favorite in Eastern A.

The squad’s biggest competition will likely come from a familiar place: Brunswick. The Dragons hold the best chance of upending Lewiston, and the teams will see each other twice this season, including in the teams’ first match.

Mt. Blue had a solid season in 2009, only to face the Mt. Ararat juggernaut in the first round of the playoffs thanks to the Heal Points. The Cougars should again be in the mix this season in a pared-down conference that is now without Morse and Gardiner. With only six teams making the playoffs this season, regular-season matches will be that much more important.

A favorable schedule, at least on paper, and higher numbers should help Edward Little this season and in the future, though realistically, the Red Eddies are likely a longshot to be in the playoffs.

Western Class B

Mountain Valley dominated the MVC one year ago with an older team, and will feel not only the pressure to repeat, but will have to do so with a much younger squad. There is tennis talent — plenty of it — in this year’s younger classes, and the drop won’t be as significant as it might have been at other schools, but the Falcons will be hard-pressed to again go unbeaten.

With eight teams into the playoffs this year, things appear to have opened up a bit for teams like Lisbon or Oak Hill, but the two teams coming into the division — Morse and Gardiner — will have something to say about that.

The Greyhounds are coming off a solid 10-2 campaign a year ago, and should be in the conversation, while the Raiders will look to improve on a three-win season with a tough KVAC-B schedule.

Western Class C

Winthrop always gets a lot of attention in Western Class C, but in recent years the Ramblers have been overshadowed by the boys at Monmouth Academy.

The Mustangs have done well to stockpile some solid players, and have made a couple of deep runs into the Western C playoffs after some favorable matchups in the early rounds.

The true test will come this year, with another new coach and a bit of turnover among the athletes.

Dirigo has had some recent success on the court and has a pair of MVC titles to show for it in recent years, as well, and will look to improve upon a .500 campaign from a year ago.

The addition of St. Dom’s to the MVC is an interesting wrinkle. The Saints have had a middler team in the tennis-heavy WMC, but the shift will likely benefit them this season, and they could be among the eight playoff teams in Western C when all is said and done.

Mt. Abram will look to improve upon a winless 2009 campaign.

2010 Sun Journal girls’ tennis overview

Eastern Class A

Lewiston lost its ace-in-the-hole this season with the graduation of all-state player Chantalle Lavertu, leaving big shoes to fill at No. 1 singles. But if history is a guide, the Blue Devils will reload with depth as they cope with the loss of their star.

Three girls continue to battle it out for the singles positions, while the team’s calling card — strong doubles — appears to be intact. Lewiston may not win so many lopsided matches this season, but it will still be the favorite to again come out of the East.

But, like the boys, the Devils will face a stiff challenge from Brunswick in the KVAC. The Dragons have a new coach, but are traditionally a thorn in Lewiston’s side, and could be again this season.

Edward Little should be much-improved from the team that won only once last season. Expect the Red Eddies to be looking toward the .500 mark for the first time in a while, and signs are pointing to a solid future.

Mt. Blue was one of those teams last season that was oh-so-close, yet not quite there. This could be a stepping-forward year for the Cougars from their 4-8 season a year ago.

Western Class B

Oak Hill and Lisbon had stellar seasons last year and each finished in the top four of a crowded and deep Western B field.

There is no question that the Falmouth girls are the top team in Western B, in Class B overall, and likely in all of Maine regardless of class. The key for most teams going into the tourney this year will be to avoid an early-round matchup with the Yachtsmen.

Lisbon returns a good portion of the lineup it used last season to have its best season in recent memory, and Oak Hill has built a traditionally strong program in KVAC-B.

Mountain Valley managed three wins in 2009, and will look to better that mark this time around. Added depth this year makes that a string possibility.

Western Class C

What Lewiston is to Eastern A, Winthrop has become to Western Class C. The Ramblers always send a talented group of athletes onto the courts, and this time out will be no exception. It’s going to be tough to repeat a perfect campaign, but the Ramblers will again be a favorite to win the conference.

Dirigo, Jay and St. Dom’s all bunched together in the middle of the pack last year, and each will return with a different makeup. Dirigo lost a handful of players and will need to rebuild a bit this season, while Jay looks to improve on its 7-5 mark from a year ago and make a run at the top of a crowded conference.

St. Dom’s will play a much different schedule this season, and could benefit from that.

Mt. Abram will again look to claw its way toward playoff contention, while the candidate for most-improved team emerging early in the season is Monmouth. After an oh-for campaign last season, the Mustangs have added significant depth and talent, and should be a team to be reckoned with in the MVC.

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