PORTLAND—At the midway point of the 2013 Western Class A girls’ tennis season, it’s clear that two teams, Portland and Scarborough, stand apart.
Monday afternoon at Deering Oaks, the Bulldogs hosted the Red Storm in the first of a likely two meetings this spring.
Most anticipated that the match would end 3-2, it was just a question of which squad would wind up on top.
When Portland easily took No. 1 and No. 2 singles, it appeared primed to take the match, but the Bulldogs weren’t able to close it out easily.
Scarborough rallied for a three-set victory at first doubles and wound up winning second doubles as well, but Portland sophomore Margot Andreasen outlasted Scarborough freshman Megan Nathanson at third singles to finally put a bow on the match and give the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory.
Portland improved to 6-0 on the season and handed the Red Storm its first loss in seven outings, as both teams left the premises fully expecting to square off in a much more meaningful match in about a month’s time.
“I was so nervous going into it,” said Portland junior Annette Denekas, who won her first singles match in straight sets. “Most of us were predicting 3-2. We’ll probably see each other again.”
Portland reached the regional final a year ago, but lost to McAuley, 3-2, capping a 12-3 season.
This spring, the Bulldogs steamrolled Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Sanford and Westbrook by 5-0 scores and Cheverus by a 4-1 margin.
Scarborough also had its 2012 season ended by McAuley in the semifinals (to finish 10-4), but has been equally impressive in the first half of this spring, defeating Marshwood (5-0), Cheverus (4-1), Gorham (5-0), Sanford (4-1), Massabesic (5-0) and Windham (4-1).
Last year, Portland won, 3-2, at Scarborough.
Monday’s highly anticipated match, which featured multiple media outlets bearing witness, wound up with a similar result.
Early on, the focus was on the No. 1 and No. 2 singles matches, as Portland had shifted senior Sophia Hulbert to the second spot in favor of Denekas in time for this showdown.
“All three of my singles are so close,” said Bulldogs coach Bonnie Moran. “Sophia had beaten Annette in the preseason, but it was close. I like my players to win twice. They played again and Annette beat her, so she was in at one. They might play again.”
Denekas validated Moran’s decision by overcoming a sluggish start to beat Scarborough’s No. 1, senior Ella Mahoney, 6-2, 6-0. Mahoney won two of the first three games, but it was all Denekas from there.
“I played Ella over the winter, so I knew what to expect, but I think she played a lot better the first part of the first set,” Denekas said. “Thankfully, I pulled it together at the end.”
“(Annette’s) a very solid player,” Moran said. “She’s very good mentally.
Hulbert, meanwhile, handled Red Storm senior Mikaela Gove at No. 2 singles, 6-2, 6-1.
While Portland found itself just one point from winning the match, it would take awhile to complete.
Both doubles matches had some interesting twists and turns.
At No. 1, Portland senior Lily Bruenjes and junior Kayla Berg cruised in the first set, 6-1, but Scarborough seniors Maria Philbrick and Katie Wahrer rose off the deck, down, 2-5, to win the second set, 6-4.
In the meantime, at second doubles, the exact opposite was happening as Red Storm seniors Carly Hughes and Grace Whelan took the first set, 6-1, but Bulldogs sophomores Georgia Drew and Alyssa Vaccaro came back from down, 1-5, to prevail in the second set, 7-5.
While that was going on, Andreasen was beating Nathanson in a first set full of long volleys, 6-3, and raced to a 5-2 lead in the second set.
Portland had three different opportunities to put the match away, but it didn’t happen at doubles.
At No. 1, Philbrick and Wahrer completed their stunning resurgence with a 6-0 third set victory.
At No. 2, Hughes and Whelan went up, 5-0, in the second set, putting all the pressure on third singles to decide the match.
Andreasen wasn’t able to close out Nathanson, as the freshman rallied to win three straight games to tie the second set, 5-5.
Had Nathanson forced a third set, it would have been for all the marbles with all eyes upon it, but Andreasen dug deep and closed it out, winning two more games and clinching it, 7-5, when a Nathanson return found the net.
“(Megan) just started getting games,” Andreasen said. “She was so consistent and I had to adjust my game. Eventually it all worked out. I was worried it was slipping away, but I told myself I couldn’t let it happen. I didn’t want it to go into a third set. She’s a very good player. I don’t usually like to play a lob kind of game. I really shouldn’t have. I learned my lesson that I need to play my own game. I felt like I was hitting more pace at the end. I was putting away more shots and coming to the net, instead of hitting them right to her. I was very relieved when it was over.”
“That was too close for comfort,” Denekas said. “Margot’s amazing. She has a tough mental game. She always pulls through in the end.”
“(Margot’s) a little bit of a pusher herself,” Moran added. “When she gets into a match with a pusher, it can go forever.”
Even though Hughes and Whelan won their third set at second doubles, 6-4, it wasn’t enough, as a regular season match with a postseason feel ended 3-2 in the Bulldogs’ favor.
“It felt a lot different (than a normal match),” said Denekas. “I saw like three cameras watching us the whole time. I tried to tune them out and didn’t look at the crowd either. It’s fun to a certain extent. Overall, it was a great time.”
“We were all pretty jittery before the match,” said Andreasen. “Bonnie told us to play it point by point and play our game.”
“I’m happy with the win,” Moran added. “I told the girls, I know (Scarborough’s) doubles are strong and they’re always deep. We typically win with our doubles, so it’s a little disconcerting to lose doubles. We did win at singles. The singles players know what to do.
“It’s incredible how the second doubles came back. They came back twice. After the first set, I told them what they needed to do, thinking we’d work on it the next few days and I’ll be darned that they didn’t just do it. They’re pretty inexperienced.
“The girls are such good sports and so supportive. They really are a tight group. They’re very competitive, but they really like each other.”
Scarborough wasn’t particularly disappointed with dropping this encounter.
“We expected a close match,” said Red Storm coach Steve Eddy. “(Portland’s) extremely deep. I knew they’d be our toughest competition. I really like where we are right now as a team halfway through the season. If we get fortunate enough to meet them again, hopefully it will be on a neutral court. I tried to tell (the girls) it’s a regular season match and we need to learn from it. I wanted to take a couple points. I just want to improve match to match. We hadn’t seen that type of ability all season and we hung in. I’d be concerned if we lost, 5-0, and left with our tails between our legs. We didn’t.”
Scarborough expects to bounce right back from this loss and hopes to be at its best for the postseason.
“I think singles are pretty even,” Eddy said. “We’ll have to win a singles point next time. We can’t fall asleep at doubles either. They’re tough. We know it’s doable. I’m convinced this team is committed.”
Portland now has the inside track for the top seed in Western A and homecourt advantage in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
The Bulldogs are eager to win a state title for the first time in program history.
“Scarborough always has amazing doubles,” Denekas said. “It’s just a matter of our singles being on the top of their game. I think doubles can take them also. I think we have what it takes. I hope so.”
“We learned their style of play,” said Andreasen. “We’ll have to keep improving and fix our mistakes. Hopefully it will all work out. I’m excited and nervous to play them again.”
“I don’t think there’s another team stronger than either of us,” Moran added.
Portland senior Sophia Hulbert fires a shot. Hulbert won her second singles match.
Scarborough senior Mikaela Gove shows her form in a second singles match.
Scarborough senior Ella Mahoney returns a shot.
Portland junior Annette Denekas returns a shot during Monday’s battle of unbeatens versus Scarborough. Denekas won her first singles match in straight sets and helped the Bulldogs prevail, 3-2.
More photos below.
1. Denekas (P) defeated Mahoney, 6-2, 6-0.
2. Hulbert (P) defeated Gove, 6-2, 6-1.
3. Andreasen (P) defeated Nathanson, 6-3, 7-5
1. Philbrick/Wahrer (S) defeated Berg/Bruenjes, 1-6 6-4, 6-0.
2. Hughes/Whelan (S) defeated Drew/Vaccaro, 6-1 5-7, 6-4.