ROCKLAND, Maine — Jordan Doutreluigne knew little of his destination when originally informed that his year as an exchange student would be spent at Oceanside High School.
“I didn’t know anything about Maine,” said Doutreluigne, who grew up in Mouscron, Belgium, located in the northwestern part of that north-central European country along its border with France.
“I knew a little because I studied America in geography class, but at first when they told me that I was going to the United States I thought I’d be going to a big city like New York. When they told me I was going to Maine I didn’t know what to think at first, but then started looking it up on the Internet and I thought it would be a good experience anyway.”
While Maine was a mystery to Doutreluigne before he landed in the Pine Tree State late last summer, Doutreluigne could be one of the more mysterious entries in Maine’s high school tennis singles tournament that begins Saturday with regional qualifying rounds.
The 18-year-old Doutreluigne, who already has graduated from his Belgian high school, will have played at most five high school matches on this side of the Atlantic Ocean when preliminary seedings are determined in advance of this weekend’s play.
His stiffest regular-season tests, against two-time state quarterfinalist Jordan Friedland of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle and Sam Leeman of Morse of Bath, have yet to take place, but Doutreluigne has dominated the rest of his competition.
Those who have seen Doutreluigne — who writes left-handed but plays tennis right-handed with a two-hand backhand — in action believe he is capable of at least holding his own with the best players in the midcoast.
“Jordan’s a really solid player,” said Oceanside coach Peter Pfister. “He plays very smart, very controlled, and he really thinks his way through his matches.
“A lot of kids really try to crush the ball all the time as 18-year-olds like to do, but Jordan’s different. He really mixes it up. He’ll use his lob, his serve, his volley and his ground strokes. He really reads the other players and takes advantage of their weaknesses.”
That patience and subtlety within Doutreluigne’s game stems largely from his clay-court roots in the sport, which he began playing at age 12 at a local club in his hometown of approximately 55,000 residents.
He had rarely seen a hard court before arriving in Maine, let alone played on the much speedier surface.
“When I play on clay I slide a lot, and I can’t do that on hard courts,” said the 5-foot-10-inch Doutreluigne, who also has participated on Oceanside’s soccer and indoor track teams during his year in Maine. “On the hard courts here I’ve learned I just have to be more offensive. When you play on clay, the game is slower so you have more time to think about what to do with the ball. Now I have to be quicker because the ball is going faster.
“Before I came here I’d play defense and wait for the other guy to make a mistake, but now I’m playing more offensively.”
Doutreluigne is looking forward to taking his newly acquired hard-court skills back to Belgium, where he is considered the best player in his age group at his local club and usually competes against older players.
But before returning home in mid-July to prepare for college in Belgium’s capital city of Brussels, where he plans to study business management, he will focus on leading the Oceanside High School tennis team as well as pursuing individual success at the state singles tournament.
“There’s a big difference here because we don’t play sports in school, we have to go to clubs instead, but I like being able to play for my school,” said Doutreluigne. “I’m also looking forward to the singles tournament, it’s pretty important to me.”
Seeding meetings Wednesday
Doutreluigne is likely to be one of the 48 boys and 48 girls seeded into the state singles tournament Wednesday evening.
Seeding meetings will be conducted for five regions, with the following number of boys and girls seeds coming from each region: Region 1, Northern Maine (four seeds); Region 2, Eastern Maine (11); Region 3, Central Maine (eight); Region 4, Western Maine (eight) and Region 5, Southern Maine (17).
Qualifying rounds will be held Saturday at the following locations: Region 1, Caribou High School; Region 2-University of Maine, Orono; Region 3, Buker School, Augusta (boys), Mount Ararat School, Topsham (girls); Region 4, Lewiston High School; Region 5, South Portland High School (boys) and Deering High School, Portland (girls).
Subsequent rounds will be played at Colby College in Waterville, with the Rounds of 48 and 32 on Friday, May 25, the Round of 16 and quarterfinals on Saturday, May 26, and the semifinals and finals on Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day).
Those rounds originally were scheduled to be held at Bates College in Lewiston, but a conflict with Bates’ graduation prompted the shift to Colby.