Waterville singles player Owen Evans returns the ball during an April 8 scrimmage against Carrabec at the North Street tennis courts in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

 

Mt. Blue boys tennis coach Zac Conlogue was asked who the contenders in Class A are, a question he gets every season. This time, though, the answer was different.

“Usually, I have a general idea. We usually can tell (who’s) going to slide up and we can kind of see the movement,” he said. “This year, we have no idea.”

It makes sense. In boys and girls tennis, juniors and seniors this year were freshman and sophomores the last time there were matches to play. Players who will reveal themselves to be aces might still be a team’s best-kept secret. A team that made a run for a championship might be decimated; a team that struggled might be ready to surge.

“I personally don’t know which players have graduated, which players may have transferred to another school,” Erskine boys and girls coach Alex Stern said. “Some schools don’t have a boys team this year, some schools don’t have a girls team. There’s just so much unknown this year. I think it’s a lot more difficult to know what to expect.”

Adding to that unpredictability is an open tournament. Every team makes the postseason this spring, which could pay off for teams that normally would have found themselves on the bubble but hitting their stride.

“The early matches are always kind of settling in, especially doubles teams, (they) start getting that chemistry together,” said Winthrop boys coach Kelsey Ouellette, whose team is a co-op with Maranacook this year. “By the end of the season when you’re solid, you’ve maybe lost a few matches that affect that record. I definitely think, by the end of the season, you’ve gained that confidence.”

Teams will also play regional schedules, which could affect standings as teams play opponents in higher or lower classes depending on the surrounding area.

“It’s going to be complicated. We open up with two MVC schools. Our usual (first) two pairings are Camden Hills and Lewiston, so it’ll be a little different adjusting to that,” Conlogue said. “It makes it complicated preparing for the playoffs when we don’t see three-fourths of our league.”

Cony’s Mandy Cooper, left, and Maddi Levesque volley during a March 29 tennis practice in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Even with the uncertainty, teams can project how much of a contender they should be. Few are better poised than the Waterville girls and boys teams, who went to the Class B North final and semifinals, respectively, in 2019. The Waterville girls have enviable continuity after two years away, with four returning starters in Inga Zimba and Amna Sheikh, the No. 1 and 2 players in 2019, and the top doubles tandem of Keira Gilman and Hannah Hubbard.

“I’m pretty excited. I think we have a good squad this year,” coach Devin Lachapelle said. “I think a lot of teams are in a position where they’re having a lot of new players come out, especially in the doubles positions. There are some teams that have few returning players, but I think we’re lucky.”

The Waterville boys are also poised for more success under first-year coach Jason Tardif, with Charlie Haberstock, who made the Round of 16 in the individual tournament as a sophomore, leading a group that also features singles standouts Owen Evans and Josiah Bloom.

“We should do pretty well,” Tardif said. “We have a pretty strong core of singles players. … I’ve got a group of nine kids, and pretty much all of them have played. I think we should have a pretty good, strong season.”

Elsewhere in Class B, Erskine, now with Stern in charge, looks for more success from its girls team, which made the Class B state championship in 2019. Julia Barber replaces Ellie Hodgkin as the No. 1, while Lily Bray and Kristin Ray are vying for the No. 2 and 3 spots. Isabella Parlin and Olivia Bourque are the plan for one doubles team, and Ashley Clavette and Grace Hodgkin are the other for an Eagles team that expects to be strong again.

Waterville doubles player Logan Tardif lobs the ball during an April 8 scrimmage against Carrabec at the North Street tennis courts in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“I think we have a lot of depth on our roster, and I also think we have a lot of good athletes,” Stern said. “From the girls standpoint, we’re going to be more competitive than a lot of schools would think we would be right now.”

Conlogue doesn’t know where his Mt. Blue boys team, an A North semifinalist two years ago, will fall in the Class A hierarchy, but he thinks he’s got a competitive group. The No. 2 doubles team of Michael Ferrari and Ayden Beisaw is back and playing at second and third singles behind Elijah Craig, who’s grabbed the top spot in his senior year.

“None of them have even played singles,” Conlogue said. “We could be great, we could be OK. I don’t know. I think we’re in pretty good shape, but it’ll be interesting.”

In A North girls, Messalonskee made the regional semifinals in 2019, but the Eagles return only two players and coach Caroline Mathes said the season will a “learning year.”

“It’s a young team, so I don’t have high expectations,” she said. “I think they’ll be pretty competitive. … It just depends on who’s got really strong players, and what other teams look like.”

In Class C, Winthrop is poised for a strong season again after reaching the South final two years ago. Josh Deanda-Whaley and Noah Grube go up a rank from second and third singles, and Jacob Smith and Robby Feeney could form a solid doubles pair.

“After two weeks, I definitely think we can make a run for it,” Ouellette said. “They’ve got the athleticism, and I can tell things are starting to click here and there, and they’ve got the drive for it.”

The Maranacook girls, who reached the Class C championship in 2018 and the C South semifinals in 2019, are out of action until Apr. 26, but an open tournament means they don’t have to worry about that hurting their playoff odds. Paige Rice, Kusha Kane and Emily Lucas project as the singles core for a team that, once back, is hoping to be in the pack of contenders again.

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