Eastern Maine teams were unable to win the ultimate trophy during Saturday’s state team tennis championships, but for three of the teams, their experiences in the finals and their relative youth suggest more good things to come.
“For us at George Stevens Academy, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said GSA girls coach Tim Farrar, whose team fell to three-time champion North Yarmouth Academy 5-0 in the Class C final. “We have a lot of kids involved in tennis, over 40 kids. We have JV programs, so there’s a lot that goes on underneath and that’s what we work on.
GSA will be led next spring by Sotherd Steer, who as a freshman emerged as the Eagles’ top singles player. Also back will be this year’s doubles tandems of juniors Grace Jackson and Vesta Davis and sophomore Tierney Hally and junior Hannah van der Eb.
“In our system, every one of these girls who is playing varsity tennis had to beat somebody to get onto that team,” said Farrar, “So one of the strengths of our program is that there’s a place for everybody’s ability and everybody’s competitiveness.
“But if you want to play varsity tennis you have to work all year to beat somebody who is working all year, and that makes us stronger.”
The Ellsworth boys team, which took an undefeated record into the state final before falling to Yarmouth 4-1, graduates its top two singles players in Spencer Small and Nick Reese as well as doubles player Justin Harding.
But the Eagles will return four other starters in third seed Alexander Keefe and doubles players Dillon Toothaker, Tyler Small and Brandan Albee.
All three returning doubles players were freshmen this spring, and combined Ellsworth’s two doubles tandems went 29-1 this season until being swept by Yarmouth at the state meet.
“The experience of the freshmen seeing this level of tennis should do wonders for them if they want to advance to the next level of their play,” said Ellsworth coach Brian Higgins. “Now these kids can go home and tell their friends, ‘we’ve got to start working out and playing more in the summer and not just put our rackets away.’”
Keefe, who scored Ellsworth’s lone point against Yarmouth with a straight-sets win over Lane O’Connor, finished undefeated at third singles for the 15-1 Eagles.
“This is uncharted territory for us coming to play in the states,” said Keefe of Ellsworth’s first EM title season since 2002. “Last year it was a huge deal for us to beat [Mount Desert Island] for the first time in quite a few years, and this year it was a big deal for us to win Eastern Maines.
“Our standards have completely changed, and there’s a lot of potential still there.”
The Madawaska boys (13-3) nearly pulled off the upset of the day, with its Class C final against powerhouse Waynflete of Portland going down to dramatic three-set finishes at both first doubles and third singles.
But a split of those matches wasn’t quite enough for the Owls, as Waynflete escaped with a 3-2 victory to win its fourth state title in the last five years.
“[Saturday] morning we got up and we were thinking, ‘Waynflete, they’re unbelievable,’” said Madawaska third seed Christian Lizotte, who backed up a key three-set win in the Eastern Maine finals with a three-set victory over Waynflete’s Ross Cummings. “We joked that we should just send them a letter saying congrats, but we came out today and played pretty good.”
Madawaska relied not only on its tennis skills to hang in with the heavily favored Flyers, but also its overall athleticism that helped earn the Owls many points and forced Waynflete’s players into hitting extra shots to put other points away.
“[Madawaska] has good athletes and guys who like to compete and can compete well,” said Waynflete coach Jeff Madore after the match. “That’s a big plus.”
Madawaska will count top singles player Shawn Parker among its graduates, but Lizotte and second singles player Nathan Beaulieu will be among the key returning players for coach Ben Sirois’ Eastern Maine champs next spring.