The Hampden Academy boys tennis squad faces a challenge Wednesday morning that few teams have ever faced in Maine interscholastic sports competition — trying to knock off an eight-time defending regional champion.
And not only does top-ranked and undefeated Lewiston boast a tradition reserved for very few programs in any sport statewide, the Blue Devils have additional motivation this spring in that their seven-year reign as Class A state champions was halted by Windham last June.
“They’re a great team, and they know how to play, clearly,” said Hampden third singles player Thomas Hoffmann after the Broncos’ 3-2 semifinal victory over Bangor on Monday. “Everyone on their team can compete with anyone, so it’s going to be tough against them in the next match.”
Second-ranked Hampden, also undefeated at 13-0, and Lewiston did not meet during the regular season, but the Blue Devils defeated the Broncos 4-1 last Thursday in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A championship match.
“We hadn’t seen a team like that this whole year and they’re really good competition,” said Hampden senior Nick Boomer, who teams with John Wilson at first doubles. “But I think we can do better the second time we play them.”
Indeed, despite the loss Hampden emerged from that first meeting against Lewiston with a positive attitude about the chance to face the Blue Devils again — this time in a 10 a.m. start at Colby College in Waterville.
“I think our kids came back from that with a lot of confidence,” said Hampden coach John Plourde. “We got beat 4-1 and in a couple of matches we got beat rather soundly. Their doubles are absolutely flawless. You sit there as a coach and you’re thinking of what to say to your kids between sets and there just aren’t many areas where you can penetrate their doubles teams, but our singles played very well, as well as we’ve seen all season.”
Hampden’s singles contingent is led by Philipp Schoenberger, an exchange student from Germany. Senior Matt Meo is the second seed, while Hoffmann, another senior who scored Hampden’s lone victory in the KVAC match, is the third seed.
Joining Wilson and Boomer in doubles are junior Kent Reichel and Nico Palacios, an exchange student from Paraguay.
Lewiston (13-0) is led by two of the top 12 seeds in the recent state singles tournament, No. 7 Eric Hall and No. 11 Scott Gagne, while the team’s third seed, Eric Morin, also qualifed for Round of 48 play.
And the Blue Devils are known for their doubles play, this year with Alex Chicoine and Ben Chicoine at first doubles with Jake Berube and Brent Vallee at second doubles.
“Considering they’ve won so many [titles], we’re realistic,” said Hoffmann. “We know it’s going to be a tough match and the odds of winning aren’t great. But we’re not just completely negative thinking that we’re going to be destroyed. We’re playing accordingly, we’re playing safe but we’re going to fight with everything we have.”
Hampden is making its first trip to the Eastern Maine finals since 2006.
“We’ve just got to go in really pumped and hyped up and have a lot of confidence in ourselves and don’t let any point get us down,” said Boomer. “We’ve just got to stay on our game the whole time and play our best and see where it goes from there.”
The Eastern A girls final, also set for 10 a.m. matches top-seeded and undefeated Brunswick (13-0) against five-time defending state champion Lewiston (11-2). Brunswick already owns a pair of 3-2 regular-season decisions over the Blue Devils this spring.
The Class C finals follow at 1 p.m. The boys match features top-ranked George Stevens Academy (12-2) and No. 2 Orono (12-2). GSA has won four of the last five regional titles and seven of the last nine EM crowns, while Orono last won the championship in 2005.
The teams split two regular-season matches, with Orono winning at home 4-1 on April 27 and GSA winning 4-1 at Blue Hill on May 25.
The Class C girls final will have top-seeded George Stevens (11-3) against the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal at Dover-Foxcroft between No. 2 Foxcroft Academy (13-0) and No. 3 Fort Kent (11-2). GSA has won two of the last four regional titles, in 2007 and 2009, while Foxcroft is attempting to reach the EM final for the first time and Fort Kent last advanced to the state final as a Class B program in 1992.
Capping off the day will be the Class B title matches at 4 p.m., with the Ellsworth boys against Presque Isle and Mount Desert Island against Waterville in the girls match.
Top-ranked and undefeated Ellsworth (14-0) handed No. 3 Presque Isle (13-1) its only loss by a 4-1 count in their first match of the season at Ellsworth on April 23. The Eagles are seeking their second regional title in three years while Presque Isle will be trying to win its first EM crown after ousting defending champion Camden Hills of Rockport 3-2 in the semifinals.
Second-ranked MDI (13-1) will try to win its first girls regional title since 1993 after ousting No. 3 Ellsworth 4-1 on Monday in a semifinal pitting teams that had split two 3-2 regular-season matches.
No. 4 Waterville (13-1) ousted defending champion Caribou in the quarterfinals and then knocked off previously undefeated and top-ranked Camden Hills in the semifinals. The Purple Panthers last won a regional title in 2009.
Wednesday’s winners advance to Saturday’s state championship matches, also at Colby College.