Freeport’s boys’ tennis team celebrates after winning the Class B South championship Thursday morning.
LEWISTON—There are several ingredients that go into a successful high school boys’ tennis program.
Talent! Without it, there is little reason to expect success.
Luck! Everyone needs it at times.
Timing! Having everything fall into place.
These three points describes this year’s Freeport team, which put it all together.
Thursday morning on the campus of Bates College, the second-ranked Falcons took things one step further, downing fifth-seeded Western Maine Conference rival Cape Elizabeth, 4-1, at Wallach Tennis Center for their first regional title, as they improved to 12-3 on the season.
The Class B South champs will face the winner from the North, Caribou, Saturday at Lewiston High School for the State Class B title, with action set to begin at 9:15 a.m.
“It has been 18 years to get back here, and to reach the goal of making it to states, and it is hard to believe,” said Freeport coach Jay Harper. “This team talked at the beginning of the year about winning it all. They stayed together and played together.”
“Jay has done a real nice job with these guys, and this is a dream of theirs to even get here. That is a great team. Good luck to them against Caribou,” Cape Elizabeth coach Andy Strout said.
Things began perfectly for Freeport as the No. 2 and 3 singles, along with the two doubles matches contested on four of Wallach’s courts, the Falcons grabbed four one-set leads.
Sophomore Clay Canterbury made quick work of Cape’s Matt Clarke, rolling to a 6-1, 6-0 victory in 48 minutes for a 1-0 Freeport lead.
“The start in my opinion is so important, and to have that early momentum push is a good way to start a match,” Canterbury said.
On Court 6, Freeport’s Liam Gould hooked up with Dan Howard at No. 3 singles. The duo did not meet in the two regular season matches, with Freeport winning the first, 5-0, and Cape Elizabeth edging the Falcons, 3-2, in the second encounter.
Gould was aware of Howard’s solid game.
“I knew that he had a good serve, good ground strokes and is a fighter,” said Gould after his 6-2, 6-2 victory and a 2-0 Freeport lead.
Early in the match, neither player was able to hold serve with five straight breaks. However, Gould held for a 4-2 edge and later served out the set.
“I had to take deep breaths and get my mind focused, play my game,” said Gould.
Meanwhile, both doubles matches saw a turn in momentum. At No. 2, Cape seniors Sam Berman and Sam Roberts recovered from a 6-1 loss in the opening set to Evan McKittrick and TJ Whelan to even the match after two, taking the second, 6-4. The third set was a back-and-forth battle, with the Capers seniors coming through, 7-5, to close the match score to 2-1.
“Our first set, we started out a little slow, lost the first few games, but once we finished that first set, we started fresh and got some confidence,” said Berman.
“That second doubles teams, two seniors who have been there, done that, and they just wanted it and felt the need as seniors to get a point,” said Strout.
In the No. 1 doubles match, Freeport’s Sully Smith and Aaron Rusiecki owned the first set, 6-2, but saw Cape Elizabeth’s Maximo Kesselhaut and Gus LaRou battle back in the second, 6-3. The Capers duo led 3-2 in the third, but Freeport rallied from there, with the Falcons clinching the match with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
“When one doubles took that win, it was a big weight off the shoulders,” Canterbury said after rushing out to Court 7 to celebrate with his teammates. “I was expecting to have a great season. This is the best that we could have done up to this point.”
Freeport No. 1 singles player Wes Goodwin made it a 4-1 win with his 6-0, 6-0 win over Caper Alex Hanson.
Harper tried to put a finger on the time this year that he knew his Falcons were going to contend for a state title.
“We had a lot of kids returning, and I knew how good Canterbury was last year, and Wes was going to improve and Gould played at three as a freshman and doubles last year, so, we knew that we were deep, and the rest of the league, including Cape, was down a bit, but that is still a heck of a team over there,” said Harper.
For the Capers and Strout, this season was a success.
“I lost my top five players from last year, and some of these guys hadn’t been on the court in any type of competition before,” said Strout, whose Capers finished 9-6. “They did a great job all year long, and we played the best at the end of the season. That is all a coach can ask for.”
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t too optimistic, but as the season went on we gained some confidence,” Roberts added.
Now comes Saturday’s challenge against a Caribou team that is undefeated (15-0) and fresh off a 5-0 victory over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Waterville in Wednesday’s Class B North regional final at Colby College.
“We saw their number one singles player in the singles tournament, and another player was hurt, and we know that they are solid,” said Harper. “But I like the top of my lineup and I like our chances. They do all the hard work. I am excited for Saturday.”