BANGOR, Maine — As the only returning starter from last year’s Eastern Maine Class A champion Bangor High School boys tennis team, Sam Bolduc greeted the current season with modest expectations.
And justifiably so. Bolduc, a junior, was being asked to make the considerable leap from playing third singles as a freshman and sophomore to first singles this spring, while the rest of the lineup was to be filled by players new to the varsity experience.
“I was expecting a couple of wins and hoping for an even record, but not this undefeated record,” said Bolduc. “It’s a little surprising because last year it was all seniors and me, and this year I’m the only returner so we’re happy with the outcome so far.”
Indeed, this new-look Bangor squad is just as unbeaten as its more veteran predecessor was at this point a year ago after the Rams scored five straight-set victories to earn a 5-0 victory over seventh-ranked Cony of Augusta in Thursday’s regional quarterfinals and improve their record to 13-0.
“My expectations this year weren’t as high as they normally are, knowing we had lost six varsity players from last year and knowing there was only one varsity starter coming back,” said Bangor coach Cindi Howard, whose second-seeded squad will host either No. 3 Erskine Academy of South China or No. 6 Lewiston in Saturday’s semifinals.
“However, these guys have really surpassed my expectations. The depth of the program helps because for a lot of these kids tennis is their third sport, but they’re great athletes, they’re great kids, they’re very coachable kids, and because of that we are where we are today.”
Bolduc improved his record at first singles to 10-3 with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Cony’s Dallas Clark.
“It was a huge adjustment playing first singles,” said Bolduc. “Everything comes at you faster, every match is longer. It took awhile to adjust, but I knew I had to step my game up because it’s a lot different than third singles.”
While Bolduc’s ascension to the team’s top seed was predictable, the rest of Bangor’s singles draw couldn’t have been predicted before the start of preseason practices — and now second-seeded Josh Audibert and third-ranked Mateo Laredo are both unbeaten through 13 matches.
Audibert, a senior, played on the junior varsity a year ago.
“I had no idea about how or where I’d play on the varsity, but I knew there was an opportunity,” said Audibert, who defeated Cony’s Chase Whitaker 6-2, 6-0. “In the beginning of the season I was just trying to keep the ball in and playing very conservative. Now I’m putting spin on it and stuff like that.”
Laredo, meanwhile, is a sophomore exchange student from Spain whose tennis skills weren’t known to the team until he tried out.
“Most of us knew him from the soccer season because some of us were on the soccer team with him, and we knew he was very athletic and very competitive,” said Audibert, also the valedictorian of Bangor’s Class of 2013, after Laredo’s 6-0, 6-0 victory over Cony’s Ean Rouillard.
“Mateo came into tennis season very strong and I was surprised I beat him for the second seed.”
The doubles pairings of senior Andrew Leighton and junior Jackson McGarvey and juniors Patrick Lee and Chandler Stewart also have been solid in enabling Bangor to remain defeated — a run highlighted by two 3-2 regular-season victories over rival Hampden Academy.
“Definitely the first Hampden match when we beat them 3-2 was a great confidence booster for the team,” said Leighton, who teamed with McGarvey to defeat Cony’s first doubles tandem of Josh Cormier and Robbie Buck 6-1, 6-3 on Thursday while Lee and Stewart topped Brandon Elwell and Bradley Beeckel 6-1, 6-4.
“We were going into that match 3-0 and knew it was going to be a good match because they also were 3-0, and when we beat them that’s when I kind of knew this could be a good senior season. It has been a great one so far.”
The Rams gained an additional dose of momentum late last week when they traveled to top-ranked Brunswick and shut out the similarly undefeated Dragons 5-0 in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A championship match.
Now should the seedings hold through Saturday’s semifinals, those teams would meet again at the University of Maine in Orono on June 5 for the Eastern Maine title.
“Yet again it was a great win for us because we were kind of disappointed going 12-0 and not getting the top seed,” said Leighton of the KVAC final. “But then we went down there and we showed up and played hard and won the match and that felt really good, so hopefully that will give us some momentum and today’s match will give us some momentum going into our semifinal.”
That semifinal will be the next step toward what for Bangor has been a rise from no expectations at all two months ago to great expectations as the Rams march deeper into postseason play with a chance to match and perhaps surpass last year’s team — which finished 15-1 after falling to Gorham in the state final.
“We’ve got to take it one match at a time and we can’t get cocky,” said Leighton. “Obviously our goal is to be in the state championship on June 8, so we’ll see what we can do.”