The Winthrop boys tennis team is 9-1 and will enter the Class C South playoffs Thursday as the No. 1 seed.

No matter how the Ramblers fare this postseason, it will top what it did last season.

After all, Winthrop failed to field a team last spring.

Winthrop’s Noah Grube returns a shot during a match Tuesday at A-Copi Tennis & Sports Center in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

After a successful 2017 season that ended with a regional quarterfinal appearance, Winthrop coach Kelsey Ouellette faced a participation problem, as only a small group would be returning for the 2018 season.

“I only had three returners coming back who were juniors last year,” Ouellette said. “I knew I had one really interested kid who had been playing on his own during the winter. Two of my three returners decided they wanted to try baseball. I was like ‘OK, are you sure? You’ve been playing tennis for two years. I was a three-sport athlete in high school – all four years the same three sports – and that was the usual thing, so that kind of threw me.”

With a lack of numbers, Ouellette had no choice but to axe the boys tennis season.

The hiatus wouldn’t last long, as it turned out, because interest picked up near the end of this winter sports season.

Still, Ouellette was cautious.

“I had to send that message, too, I didn’t want to just hope for a team,” Ouellette said. “They did some recruiting. … Signups came around, and I had 10, so gradually it grew. Eventually, I had 13. I said that if I had over 12 I was going to make cuts, but I’m not going to cut one person. But it got to the point where there were not enough courts, and there’s only one of me around for four different courts. It’s hard to monitor skill work and match play. But it’s been OK, it’s worked out.”

Ouellette didn’t just receive numbers, she received championship players. Seven players on the tennis team helped the boys varsity basketball program win a Gold Ball last winter. That number is eight if one includes assistant coach Todd MacArthur, the head coach of the basketball program.

“We’re just naturally competitive,” Winthrop senior Beau Brooks said. “Most of us play basketball. Coach MacArthur is always on us about doing the best we can. I’m pretty sure everyone on the team is a three-sport athlete, so we’re all just naturally competitive.”

The Ramblers feature a mix of athleticism and size. Winthrop’s No. 1 doubles team of Cam Wood and Sam Figueroa — both stand around 6-foot-4 — covers plenty of ground on a tennis court.

There have also been pleasant surprises.

“With the additions of Josh (Deanda-Whaley) and Noah Grube, they’ve been great at second and third singles for us,” Brooks said.

Ouellette credited both Grube and Deanda-Whaley as being pleasant surprises on the team, with both trying to pick up as much as they can by watching as much tennis as possible.

“(Deanda-Whaley) is so dedicated to tennis, and he is always the one who comes to talk strategy with me,” Ouellette said. “He’s got a bit of a nervous energy, but he feeds off of that.”

Thanks to the wet spring, Winthrop has barely practiced in normal conditions. Several of the players have after-school jobs, which forces Ouellette at times to mix and match her lineups.

But the Ramblers are winning, at least of late as they have not dropped a match in three weeks. Their lone loss came to Mountain Valley, a 4-1 defeat on May 6. Winthrop avenged it with a 3-2 victory in the regular-season finale May 22. With confidence heading into the playoffs, expectations have changed.

Winthrop’s Beau Brooks returns a shot during a match against Mountain Valley on Tuesday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“We just want to win,” senior Sammy Lattin said.

“I’ve given them the expectation that we’re going to states,” Ouellette added. “There’s no other expectation. We’ve made playoffs, and we’re just going to keep going like we’ve been going, and we’re going to states.”

Like 2017, Winthrop has another large senior class. Unlike 2017, it appears interest and talent will keep the group intact next year, and possibly, beyond.

“Next year will definitely be a growing year, but hey, you never know, we may get 10 new incoming seniors who want to play,” Ouellette said. “There’s some kids I have in mind who didn’t play a spring sport this year, who I know are good athletes…We definitely have the numbers, so hopefully we won’t (be struggling) every other year with the tennis program.”


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