George Stevens Academy, winner of six of the last eight Eastern Maine Class C schoolboy tennis titles, figured to have nearly its entire roster back this year from the 2009 team that fell to Madawaska in last spring’s regional final.
Then one player graduated early from the Blue Hill school, another moved and a third player transferred.
No matter. The Eagles are back for an Eastern Maine championship rematch against the Owls today at 1 p.m. at Colby College in Waterville thanks to a mix of four seniors steeped in the program’s tradition as well as three influential freshmen.
Coach Mark Messer’s club not only is undefeated at 14-0 but save for a 3-2 win over Eastern B top seed Ellsworth, GSA has defeated every other opponent 5-0 to compile an individual-match record of 68-2.
“I expected this to be a building year,” said Messer, “but what ended up happening was that we had some good freshman talent that really supported our seniors.”
GSA, one of a growing number of schools in the state to admit international students who remain there for several years, has been led this year by top singles player Johnny Xue, a freshman from Shanghai, China.
“He’s played against some fairly intense competition, and he has a lot of the fundamentals down,” said Messer.
Senior Michael Senter-Zapata is in his second year at second singles, while classmate Max Reiter is a first-year member of the Eagles’ singles trio.
Freshmen Jasper Adam and Eric Kim play first doubles, while seniors Liam Russell and Lucas Yoder play second doubles.
“We’re blessed to have five strong singles players this year,” said Messer, “and to be able to have two of them play doubles.”
Madawaska (11-3) returns singles players Nathan Beaulieu and Christian Lizotte and the first doubles team of Jamie Cyr and Jacques Daigle from the 2009 team that outlasted GSA 4-1 in a regional final that featured four three-set matches.
Whichever team wins the Eastern C boys title Wednesday will face an even bitter challenge in Saturday’s state final. Defending champion Waynflete of Portland is the prohibitive favorite in the West after fielding the top three seeded singles players in the state, led by 2010 individual champion Brandon Thompson.
The regional finals begin at 10 a.m. in Class A with Lewiston against Brunswick in both the boys and girls finals.
Both Lewiston teams are top-ranked and undefeated, with the Blue Devil boys the seven-time defending state champions while the girls have won four straight state crowns.
The Brunswick girls feature Elena Mandzhukova, a Bulgarian-born exchange student from Portugal who won the state schoolgirl singles title on Memorial Day.
In Class B, Camden Hills of Rockport will play in both the boys and girls finals at 4 p.m.
The top-ranked Windjammer girls (14-0) will face against No. 3 Caribou (14-0) in a battle of unbeatens featuring three of the top 12 seeded players in the schoolgirl singles tournament. Camden Hills is led by seventh seed Carissa English and No. 12 Emma Blakeley, while Caribou is led by No. 8 Jenna Selander.
Third-seeded Camden Hills (12-2) will face fourth-ranked John Bapst of Bangor (12-2) in the boys final after both teams scored semifinal wins on the road. Bapst edged defending EM champ Ellsworth 3-2, while Camden Hills edged No. 2 Presque Isle 3-2.
John Bapst is led by junior Bob Tom Flynn, a semifinalist at the state schoolboy singles tournament, along with fellow singles players Lucas Hubbard and Charlie Volkwein, a transfer from GSA. Camden Hills is sparked by singles players Will Vlautin, Pierre Hanington and Casey Scott.
The Class C girls final is a rematch from a year ago, when George Stevens defeated Dexter 3-2 for its second regional title in the last three years.
No. 1 GSA (11-4) is led by Grace Jackson, Sotherd Steer and Tierney Hally. No. 2 Dexter (13-1), which defeated the Eagles in the 2008 regional semifinals, features Crissy Mountain, Cally Mountain and Sarah Murray in singles.