WINTHROP — Unlike a couple of her fellow seniors, Rachel Kurtz of St. Dom’s had never previously faced her Winthrop foe in Saturday’s Class C South tennis semifinal.

Kurtz’s lack of familiarity showed in the first set of her match with Corinna Coulton. But she took the lessons she learned from losing in eight games in the first set, developed a new game plan and prepared herself physically and mentally for the long road back.

Kurtz rallied to win, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, in what turned out to be the clinching match for the reigning state champion Saints in a 4-1 victory over second-seeded Winthrop.

“She’s very good at returning, very consistent, so I had to make her move more and hit harder shots,” Kurtz said. “And she was good at the net, so I had to hit it over her.”

The sixth-seeded Saints (10-4), who until this year were Mountain Valley Conference rivals with the Ramblers, will face their new Western Maine Conference rivals, No. 4 Waynflete, in a rematch of last year’s regional final at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday at Bates College.

Winthrop, the MVC champs, finished 10-2 in what might be the program’s swan song.

After senior Sarah Spahr kept the Ramblers alive with a 6-0, 6-2 win over senior Clare Kramer in the second singles match, Kurtz got all of the inspiration she needed to push ahead in her No. 3 singles match when she learned the Saints’ doubles teams of K.K. Linck and Kassandra Stacy, and Laurel Christopher and Hannah Phelan had swept their matches.

“She was doing a good job in the first set. The bounces just weren’t going her way,” St. Dom’s coach Andrew Girouard said. “We made those adjustments and Rachel started building her confidence up, won the second. Win or lose that first set, anything can happen, and in that case she was able to turn things around.”

“She was moving me to my backhand a lot, and I tried to get back to the middle, so I was moving around there,” said Coulton, a senior. “I’ve been doubles the past three years. This is my first year as a singles player, so I try to come to the net a lot because that’s what I was really comfortable with when I played doubles.”

Spahr, a senior, had faced Kramer two years ago but was more focused on limiting her own mistakes than using anything she had gleaned from their history together.

“I was really nervous, so I was just keeping it in and trying to hit it well. But nothing special, just consistency,” Spahr said. “It’s easier to hit against a person who’s also hitting the same speed.”

In first singles, senior Bethany Hammond, a semifinalist in the state singles tournament, defeated Megan Chamberland, 6-0, 6-1.

Linck and Stacy needed a tiebreaker in the first set to overcome Nora Conrad and Gabby Blanco in first doubles, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. Christopher and Phelan defeated Natalie Frost and Bre Feeney, 6-2, 6-2.

Both teams will have revenge on their mind in Thursday’s regional final. The Saints won last year’s final, 4-1, and Waynflete edged St. Dom’s in their only regular-season match, 3-2, on May 19. 

“It was a very good match,” said Girouard, who had all seniors on the court Saturday. “Waynflete always has a great team. We did get by them last year. Things just kind of fell right for us. They will be a tough match on Thursday.”

The Ramblers graduate all three singles players, but the other eight players on their roster are all sophomores and freshmen. The question is whether they will get to play next year. Tennis is among the sports that would be cut on the proposed school budget going before voters on June 13.

“We really had a lot of unknowns,” Winthrop coach Jessica Merrill said. “We had all new first doubles and second doubles. Second doubles had never played before. (Second doubles) only lost twice all season and first doubles I believe only lost once, so I couldn’t be any happier. I’m so proud of what we did.”

Winthrop was the last public school to win the Class C state crown, in 2005. Private schools Waynflete, North Yarmouth Academy and St. Dom’s have dominated for over a decade.

“I won’t believe it until it’s actually happening,” Merrill said about the possibility of the program being cut. “Tennis has been predominantly a good program, so we are hoping (to keep it). We’ve got a great tradition here and I can’t see it stopping, so I’m sure we’ll figure something out to rebound.”


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