Winthrop senior Gabrielle Blanco poses for photos wearing a cap and gown for her upcoming graduation and holding a tennis racket and ball at the tennis courts at Winthrop Grade School on Tuesday. Blanco was poised to have another successful tennis season before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring sports season. Submitted photo

The first time Gabrielle Blanco stepped on the Winthrop tennis courts this spring, she was holding a mortar board instead of a tennis racket.

The Winthrop High School senior posed for pictures in her cap and gown at the courts on Tuesday, the same courts where she played varsity tennis for the Ramblers for three years, helping them win Mountain Valley Conference championships in 2017 and 2019.

Winthrop’s Gabby Blanco reaches for a shot during her match in the state singles tennis tournament in Portland last year. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald file photo

Blanco was hoping for even more success and memories this spring before the COVID-19 outbreak forced cancellation of spring high school sports in Maine.

Blanco, who also played varsity soccer for three years, was hoping to make it three-out-of-four in MVC girls tennis championships and challenge for a state team championship as the Ramblers’ No. 1 player. She was also looking forward to the possibility of having her sister Sophia, a freshman, as a teammate.

“We were hoping to play on varsity together, so it’s sad,” Gabrielle Blanco said.

Blanco played doubles for the Ramblers as a freshman yet earned a spot in the state singles preliminaries as an alternate. She advanced to No. 2 singles her sophomore year and made another appearance in the singles tournament, then broke through on her third appearance last year, reaching the round of 48.

“She put in the work, and embraced a fighter’s spirit,” Winthrop coach Jess Merrill said. “She was never out of matches she got behind in, she always battled back. She was relentless and knew how to adjust on the fly with calm and ease.”

This year, Blanco was looking to augment that tenacity and poise and her strong backhand with a better serve and forehand, plus a confidence acquired from her performance last season and an offseason spent playing with family and playing club tennis at A-Copi Tennis in Augusta before the pandemic.

“I was hoping to do at least as well this year, maybe go in seeded this year and go deeper (in singles),” she said.

“She was primed to have a great senior season,” Merrill said. “With making the round of 48 last year, gaining valuable experience playing some of the top players in the state, she was hoping to go deeper this year.”

Blanco, who started playing tennis in sixth grade, credited Merrill with instilling confidence and competitiveness in her and the team while still maintaining a fun atmosphere. She said she was proud to be a part of the program’s success but just as proud to see her teammates improve and is excited to follow her sister and the program’s progress over the next three years.

“My teammates have grown so much as tennis players over the last three years,” said Blanco, who will enroll in the Doctor of Pharmacy program at the University of Rhode Island in the fall. “They didn’t start playing until high school and they’ve worked really hard and come so far. I was excited to see how good they would be this year.”

— Randy Whitehouse

GIRLS TENNIS

Gabrielle Blanco

Gabrielle Blanco
“Gabby has been a four-year varsity player at second singles and doubles. Her determination, coachable spirit and work ethic made her a tough opponent in our conference. She has made a lasting impact on this program through her leadership skills, and I will miss her presence on the court.”

Natalie Frost

Natalie Frost
“Natalie has been a four-year singles player and doubles partner. Natalie is one of the most consistent and level players I have ever coached, as nothing rattled her. Her laugh was contagious, and the younger players looked up to her ability to get to every ball and stay in matches.”

Alexis Emery

Alexis Emery
“Alexis has been a three-year doubles player. Alexis is athletic and worked hard to be the best teammate she could be. She was an important piece on our doubles team, and I will miss how she kept the team loose and laughing everyday.”

GIRLS LACROSSE

Nikki MacDonald

Nikki MacDonald
“Nikki is a great athlete and a terrific person. She works hard at every practice and looks to improve every day. Nikki is a leader on and off the field with her work ethic and positive attitude. She’s a great kid and a pleasure to coach. Nikki’s senior year would have been her third year on the Winthrop/Maranacook team. In addition to lacrosse, she also played soccer for four years, serving as a captain her senior year. Nikki plans to attend UMO, studying Animal and Veterinary Science in hopes of becoming a large animal vet.”

BOYS LACROSSE

Ian Dow

Ian Dow
“Ian was a silent leader on our team. He was an attack man for our squad. He was a four-year varsity player for the (Maranacook/Winthrop/Spruce Mountain) Hawks, running some midfield his first year then transitioning to attack. He was a instrumental part of our offense with his ability to move the ball, and he was a threat to score for us as well. He was the quarterback of the attack, helping to set up and move our offense. He was a quiet guy, but spoke with his stick when he was on the field.”

Aurthur Lynn

Arthur Lynn
“Arthur came to us from out of state (after) he moved here his sophomore year, and came aboard varsity his first year. When we lacked depth at long stick he gave us the ability to dig a little deeper at the pole position. He ran a lot of LSM (long stick middie) to help us on our faceoffs and our transition game. We also utilized him on our man-down team. He was a hard worker and made the most of his time on the field.”

Beau Schmelzer

Beau Schmelzer
“Beau took two years off from lacrosse and ran track for Winthrop High School, but when he came back to the sport, it’s like he didn’t miss a beat. He came on board again his junior year and was instantly an impact player. His first year back, he was running on our second line of midfield and was our go-to guy when it came to clears. The kid has wheels. He cleared the ball for us at a 90% ratio and was also a point producer. His first year back to lacrosse he had 10 goals and 12 assists, with a single-game high of four goals versus St. Dom’s. He was one of the hardest workers we had on and off the field.”

Jacob Sousa

Jacob Sousa
“This kid was a workhorse for our defense. Jacob came aboard the Hawks as a freshman and transitioned from midfield in middle school to LSM/close defense in high school. When it came to locking down some of the top offensive players in the state, this kid was the go-to guy. He is a bruiser and is not afraid to play physical. Sometimes he liked to play a little too rough, but the competition always knew what to expect when going against ‘Sousa.’ He was a three-time all-KVAC first-team defenseman. Jacob (drew) the responsibility of (defending) some top-tier attack men in the state … but he always stood up to the challenge. Jacob was the leader on our defense and took pride in his role as a leader for our program.”

BASEBALL

Ryan Baird

Ryan Baird
“Ryan is our No. 1 starting pitcher and the strongest bat on the team. He led the team in batting average and slugging percentage. As our primary first baseman, he provided a big target to throw to. He was a solid infielder, as well.”

Brad Bourne

Bradley Bourne
“Brad made a huge jump from his sophomore year to his junior year. Brad became our all-around utility player, as he played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. Brad always did what was asked of him with a huge smile. His bat came alive his junior year as he was moved to the fourth spot in the lineup.”

Jake Carter

Jacob Carter
“Jake also played the roll of utility player, but mainly played the outfield. Being one of the fastest players on the team, Jake did an outstanding job in the outfield by providing great range with a strong arm. His bat was solid as his slugging percentage was third highest on the team.”

Cam Hachey

Cameron Hachey
“Cam is one of our strongest infielders. While primarily playing second base, Cam did an excellent job also playing both short and third. He provided a positive attitude around his teammates on and off the field. Although hurt for part of his junior season, Cam still managed to be in the top five in batting average on the team.”

Zach Pray

Zach Pray
“Zach is the most dedicated player I have ever coached. Always early to every practice and ready to (go). Although Zach did not get a lot of time on the field last year, he was always very positive and willing to do what was needed for our team.”

SOFTBALL

Samantha Allen

Samantha Allen
“Sam played several positions during her high school career and became one of the best in the conference, being selected as an MVC all-conference player in both her sophomore and junior years. Sam led the Ramblers in outfield assists her sophomore and junior years as well, also tying for the team lead in runs batted in her junior season.”

Kayla Webber

Kayla Webber
“Kayla played both outfield and third base for the Ramblers. Kayla was a huge part of the Ramblers’ success the past few seasons, a true team player who always put her team first. Kayla made several outstanding diving catches during her career, playing fearless at third base as well as giving the Ramblers crucial innings in the outfield.”

TRACK AND FIELD

Liam Callahan

Liam Callahan
“Liam was a huge help to the team. He competed fearlessly in the hurdles, a very demanding and technical event. He was also always willing to help on relays and was a great teammate, looking out for the underclassmen of the team.”

Maya Deming

Maya Deming
“Maya has been a key contributor of the cross country and track programs at Winthrop. Her contributions have been instrumental in keeping both programs relevant and competitive. She has used her outstanding work ethic to achieve success on the track, in the classroom and in the workplace.”

Gia Francis

Gia Francis
“Gia has tried almost every event over her track career. What stands out from all of that was her willingness to help out the team. She would do anything to help her teammates. Her positive can-do attitude will be missed next year.”

Alex Robertson

Alex Robertson
“Alex got a later start to his field and track career than most. He worked extremely hard last year to learn and improve his craft. He was a good teammate to all and his contributions will be missed.”

Jillian Schmelzer

Jillian Schmelzer
“Jillian used a lot of focus, hard work and determination to leave a lasting imprint on the track and field program. She has had a hand in rewriting four school records and was poised to continue that trend this spring. We all want to wish her the best of luck as she continues her story running at UMaine.”

Zak St. Germain

Zak St. Germain
“Zak is a quiet leader who lets his results and work ethic do the talking. Zak has always been willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of his teammates. He is willing to share in the successes of his teammates, and we will all miss his amazing kicks to close races.”

Shane Tweedie

Shane Tweedie
“Shane has been a part of the track program since grade school. He displayed the tools and competitive spirit early on. He has improved steadily over his time throwing and was due to have a big senior season.”

Loal Vance

Loal Vance
“Loal brought pole vaulting back to the Winthrop program. I asked him why he liked it so much, and his reply was he felt like he was flying. He was strongly motivated and had his sights set firmly on a state title and a school record. I was confident he was going to get both of those this spring.”

Aaliyah WilsonFalcone

Aaliyah WilsonFalcone
“Aaliyah has had her eyes set on the school record in triple jump, and it is one of our harder school records. She has worked tirelessly on the track and in the weight room to close in on that record. Her contributions will be missed next year and her mark on the program will never fade away.”

Quotes provided by Winthrop baseball coach John Novak, softball coach Chuck Gurney, girls tennis coach Jessica Merrill, track and field coach Ed Van Tassel, Maranacook/Winthrop girls lacrosse coach Shawn Drillen and Maranacook/Winthrop/Spruce Mountain boys lacrosse coach Kyle Dennett, with help from Withrop athletic director Joel Stoneton. Photos compiled by coaches and Winthrop High School administrative assistant Denise Mitchell.


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