Forecaster Country cleaned up nicely at the recent tennis state championships, with one school further solidifying its claim as the center of local tennis world, with another reaching the pinnacle for the first time.
Greely’s girls’ tennis team has long been a contender and even reached the regional final in 1998 and 2006, but until this spring, the Rangers had never won a regional or a state championship.
With Falmouth moving up to Class A for the playoffs (more on the Yachtsmen in a moment), Greely had a golden opportunity this season and seized it.
Following an 11-1 regular season (the only loss came to Falmouth), the Rangers earned the top seed for the Western B playoffs and advanced with a quarterfinal round win over No. 8 Yarmouth (5-0) and escaped a scare from fifth-ranked Cape Elizabeth (3-2) in the semifinals.
Last Thursday, in the Western B Final at the Racquet and Fitness Center in Portland, Greely met No. 6 Spruce Mountain and rolled, 5-0, behind straight sets singles wins from Katherine Pare, Anna Collins and Alex Tebbs and quick doubles victories from Mia Lambert and Jessie Hoffman and Sarah Gooch and Samantha Kennedy.
That sent the Rangers to uncharted waters, the state match, Saturday against Waterville, which has been a regular finalist. Greely wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment, however, and prevailed, 4-1, although it wasn’t easy.
Pare lost her first singles match to Colleen O’Donnell, 1-6, 1-6, but that was the only point the Rangers dropped. Collins outlasted Emily Dufour in a three-set thriller at No. 2 singles, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7), Tebbs also dropped the first set at third singles, 3-6, to Olivia Bennisson, but rallied with 6-3, 6-3 victories. Doubles matches produced marathons as well, but Lambert and Hoffman downed Emma Cristan and Jayme Saulter, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (6), 10-5, and Gooch and Kennedy held off Chelsea Cayer and Fotini Shamos, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.
“That state match was one of the best team tennis matches I have ever been a part of,” said Greely coach Ben Caswell. “We went into this match without our number one singles player (Allie Eaton), so all of the girls knew that they needed to step up their game to play the next seed. Kathryn was matched up against the number seed in the state. Although she dropped her match, she played one of her strongest matches of the year and she proved she could hit with the best. Anna, Alex and Sarah and Sam all lost their first sets, but not by too much. We made some adjustments after those sets and the girls just kept working hard and never gave up. These ended up being the three points that won the championship for us. Mia and Jessie played a great, smart match, as they always do. They were the last match going after three hours of play, when it was decided to finish the last set with a tiebreaker, as the outcome had already been determined.
“This win was huge for our team and for our program. The rallying cry we used all year was that girls’ tennis didn’t have a banner in the gymnasium and this year was a great opportunity to go out there and get it. We’ve had good teams in the past, but for some reason had trouble getting to and past the regional finals. I feel that winning against Spruce Mountain gave our girls the confidence that they could really do this, they could bring home a state title. The coaches knew that we had a team that could win it all, we just needed the girls to believe. After Thursday, they believed, and it carried them through Saturday night’s final.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of these girls and seeing the smiles on their faces as they received their medals, I knew that they were proud of their accomplishment as well.”
Now that it has finally reached the pinnacle, Greely doesn’t plan on being a one-year wonder.
“We have our core group of girls coming back, so things look good,” Caswell said. “We’re losing three of our top eight, but we have some talented players just waiting to get their chance to play varsity. We know we’ll have a target on our back and the matches will be more difficult, but the lesson these girls learned will do wonders for their confidence in the coming years.”
Falmouth’s move up to Class A this spring went as smoothly as possible, as both teams went undefeated and ran roughshod on the opposition in their new classification in the playoffs to add to the school’s already overstuffed trophy case.
The girls’ team, ranked second for the Western A playoffs, has now won 109 consecutive matches and seven straight titles after blanking top-ranked Portland in the regional final and defending champion Brunswick in the state match.
Against the Bulldogs, Amanda Watson and Mary Hyland were pushed by Hallie Repeta and Margaret Adham at second doubles, but prevailed, 7-5, 6-0. Katie Ryan and Kate Kelley downed Alyssa Vaccaro at first doubles, 6-3, 6-0. Singles wins came more easily, as Caroline Ray ousted Kayla Berg at No. 3, 6-1, 6-1, Julia Brogan was a 6-2, 6-1 winner over Margot Andreasen at No. 2 and Olivia Leavitt closed it out with a quick 6-0, 6-0 victory over Annette Denekas at first singles.
“I like having the pressure (of having all eyes on me),” said Leavitt, the state singles champion. “We knew they were undefeated and that they were going to try to get every ball back. We stayed on our heels. I have a lot of faith in my team.”
“It was a good challenge,” said Falmouth coach Sandy Stone. “First doubles came off and said, ‘They’re good!’ They are good. It was a good warmup for Saturday. It wasn’t that different playing them. We just knew the ball was coming. It’s not like you can hit a winner and be done with it.”
Monday, the Yachtsmen went to Bates College in Lewiston and as has been the case every spring since 2008, were coronated as champions.
Second doubles was again the closest match, but Watson and Hyland outlasted Lyse Henshaw and Elizabeth Day, 6-4, 6-3. Ryan and Kelley were 6-1, 6-0 winners over Samiera MacMullen and Kira Wolpow at first doubles. Ray was a 6-1, 6-0 winner over Leah Soloway at third singles. Brogan defeated Ali Stankiewicz, 6-1, 6-2, at No. 2 singles and Leavitt got the better of rival Maisie Silverman once more at first singles, 6-3, 6-3.
“It’s always great to bring another championship to Falmouth and keep the match streak going,” Leavitt said. “We do feel pressure, but our team trusts each other and counts on each other.”
Falmouth’s boys, seeded second in Western A, did not win a championship last year, but posted a 16-0 mark this season, capped by a 5-0 regional final victory over top-ranked Deering and a 3-2 win over Cinderella Mt. Ararat in the state match.
Against the Rams, Russell Barnard and Matt Hutcheon had to go to three sets at first doubles to escape Will Weeks and Jordan Roche, 6-0, 3-6, 6-2. Ben Aicher and Joe Lesniak were 6-3, 6-3 winners over Jason Thach and Kelvin Huynh at number two doubles. All three singles players rolled to straight set wins, as Aiden McGrory beat Conor Doane at No. 3, 6-1, 6-1, Brendan McCarthy, the state’s singles champion, downed Isaac Finberg, 6-0, 6-0, at No. 2, and Justin Brogan, who returned from an ankle injury, beat Tyler Butler, 6-3, 6-1 at No. 1.
“It’s really unnerving, because you don’t know what to expect,” said longtime Falmouth coach Bob McCully. “When you play Cape, Yarmouth, York, you know what to expect, but it’s very different when it’s a team you haven’t seen before. We have a veteran team. They’re very driven. They’ve worked hard. It’s been a great year. A good group to work with. It’s been fun.”
Monday’s final score was a little misleading, as the victory was never in doubt against a Mt. Ararat squad which was ranked fifth in Eastern A before making a stunning run to a first-ever championship match.
McCarthy made quick work of Mike Crawford (6-1, 6-0) at second singles, McGrory didn’t drop a game in defeating Joe Thomas (6-0, 6-0) at third singles and John Fallon and Hutcheon also won, 6-0, 6-0, over John Roux and Joey Reed at second doubles to give the Yachtsmen the points they needed. Aicher and Lesniak lost, 3-6, 2-6, to Trevor Mayo and Eric Knight at first doubles and after splitting the first two games with Nick Mathieu, Brogan’s ankle woes returned and he retired, accounting for the final score.
Falmouth graduates a ton from this year’s squad, but don’t think for a minute that the Yachtsmen will fall back to the pack. They should be right at the top of both the Western Maine Conference and of Class A again next spring.
“Six of our top seven are seniors, but we’ll still be good next year,” McCully said. “We have a good nucleus.”
The North Yarmouth Academy and Yarmouth boys made it to the regional finals, but no further.
The Clippers made it to the Western B Final last week, but were no match for eventual repeat champion Cape Elizabeth, falling, 5-0, to finish the year 11-4. Braden Becker (first singles) lost to Gabriel Torres (0-6, 1-6). Chandler Smith played tough at second singles, but dropped a 5-7, 4-6 decision to Eli Breed. Ben Vigue fell, 0-6, 0-6, to Luke Gilman at third singles. Rhys Eddy and Jackson Clark dropped a 1-6, 5-7, decision to John Hall and Ethan Murphy at first doubles and Wes Crawford and Devin Shields-Auble lost, 4-6, 1-6, to Jack Tierney and Connor Sullivan at No. 2 doubles.
The Panthers made it to the Western C Final, where longtime nemesis and now seven-time state champion Waynflete ended their season at 8-7 with a 5-0 decision. NYA was hindered by the loss of some foreign players, who had already left for home. As a result, it had to concede third singles and second doubles by default. Bryce Tetreault lost, 1-6, 0-6, to Isaac Salas at first singles. Brad Potter dropped a 3-6, 0-6 decision to Brandon Amgelio at number two singles. Hunter Mahoney and Griffin Cady lost, 2-6, 0-6, to Stephen Epstein and Peter Michalakes at first doubles.
Greely’s number one singles player, Katherine Pare, returns a shot during the Rangers’ 4-1 win over Waterville at Saturday’s Class B state championship. It was the first title in program history.
Greely’s Alex Tebbs returns a shot during her victory at third singles during Saturday’s Class B state match.