Messalonskee boys tennis coach Ed Hinckley entered this spring with multiple dilemmas.
For one, he was short on players the players he did have had little experience. Every player with the exception of one was new.
Second, how would he get his top player, Jai Aslam, ready throughout the season for the singles state tournament?
The choice was a little unorthodox.
“He’d come to practice, and literally, there would be no one for him to play with,” Hinckley said. “I’d play with him, but I wasn’t strong enough to really challenge him and make him play. Basically what he would do is go down to Brunswick and play with his friends whenever that was possible.”
The strategy worked. Aslam was undefeated throughout the regular season, and he made it to the third round at the state tournament as the ninth ranked player in the state, dropping his only match of the season to Isaac Salas of Waynflete.
For his success during the season, Aslam is the Morning Sentinel Boys Tennis Player of the Year. It’s the second consecutive season Aslam has received the honor.
Aslam said his major goals going into the season were to go undefeated and go as far in the singles tournament as he could.
“Going undefeated was a big goal. And I just wanted to go as far as I could in the singles tournament because I knew that playing the way I was and against some of the people in Brunswick at the academy, I could compete against some of the other players and make it further.”
Aslam won his first match in the second round of the tournament, defeating Bryce Tetreault of North Yarmouth Academy before falling to Salas in the third round.
“I would have liked to have made it further, obviously,” Aslam said. “But I played pretty well, and (Salas) played really well in our match in the round of 16, so I was pretty happy.”
Hinckley remembers Aslam’s progression from his freshman year, where he played in consellation matches, to his sophomore year, when he came back with new focus and drive to be a better player.
“He came back his sophomore year with a lot more interest,” Hinkley said. “He really started to play some tennis, and he wanted to start playing tennis.”
Aslam got so good, in fact, he could practice playing ambidextrous.
“He came to practice one day and said ‘I’m going to give my right arm a break today.’ So he played lefthanded, and he put top spin on the ball,” Hinkley said. “It was just amazing that he could do that. I have a hard enough time doing that with my right hand. He’s just very gifted.”
While getting his own work in, Aslam did his best to help out his inexperienced teammates throughout the season.
“There was a lot of helping people,” Aslam said. “And there was no one you could really practice with during practice time. But it was really nice to see that they improved a lot during the season, even though we didn’t get any wins in.”
Hinckley said Aslam was a great example for the other players to follow as tennis players.
“He’s a strong leader, great character,” Hinckley said. “As a coach you couldn’t have asked for a better kid. I really enjoyed coaching him from that perspective.”
Aslam will attend Northeastern University in the fall, where he will double major in math and computer science. He will also play on the club tennis team.
Dave Dyer — 621-5639