In tennis, a tale of 2 Maines

Posted June 11, 2009, at 9:27 p.m.

It had all the makings of a lousy day for the teams competing in the Eastern Maine team tennis championships.

Players and coaches awoke to wet conditions and just enough of a drizzle to ensure that the outdoor tennis courts they hoped to use at Waterville’s Colby College would be unplayable, meaning the matches in Classes A, B and C would be moved indoors.

Ultimately that meant the Class B matches would be moved to Bangor Tennis in Hampden, the Class C finals to Champions’ fitness club in Waterville, while the Class A matches were postponed.

It was only a minor inconvenience, however, with the day ending as it would have if the skies had featured brilliant sunshine — with champions crowned, in this case boys teams from Ellsworth and Madawaska and girls teams from Waterville and George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.

The wins were all the more satisfying for the teams because of the competitive nature of most of the matches, and many of the individual matches within those matches.

And even the teams that lost could appreciate the opportunity for the championship-level experience, which undoubtedly will fuel the motivation to succeed again next year.

But now comes the hardest part for those who have survived.

East will meet West, or more accurately North meets South, on Saturday for the state championships, and history suggests the East will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Only in Class A has the Eastern Maine representative had consistent recent success in the state tennis finals, but only if you consider Lewiston to be a true Eastern Maine representative. The Blue Devils have won six straight boys state titles, the Lewiston girls three in a row.

But true northern Maine has crowned just four Class A state boys champions since the current format was started in 1983 — the most recent Bangor in 2002 and Waterville in 1998. The last girls team north of Lewiston or Mount Ararat of Topsham to claim the gold was Caribou in 1995.

There are more recent exceptions to the geographic trend in Class B, most noticeably Caribou’s unbeaten run to the 2008 state title. But the only other “B” boys state champion from the East this decade was Camden Hills of Rockport in 2005.

On the girls side, Camden Hills won in 2003, but the only other teams north of Greater Portland to win in the last two decades are the Mount Desert Island teams of 1987 through 1989.

And no Class C girls team from the East has won a state title since the division was formed in 1995, while only the boys teams from George Stevens Academy (2004) and Madawaska (1999) have emerged as “C” champions.

The reasons for this southern dominance are several, among them more indoor facilities that are home to feeder programs for the traditional southern Maine high school powers; the prevalence of more single-sport tennis standouts, again in great part because of the availability of indoor facilities; the strong tradition of those southern Maine tennis powers that helps perpetuate new generations of players; and the chance to get outdoors earlier each spring.

But while all of the Eastern Maine champs in Classes B and C undoubtedly will enter Saturday’s state finals as underdogs, the exceptions to the state championship trend offer hope for the ultimate upsets.

And the chance to be tested against the best of the West is something any competitor should welcome.

eclark@bangordailynews.net

990-8045

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