KENTS HILL — For Japan native Shin Ota, the decision to attend Kents Hill School was made with great thought.
“I used the agency back in Japan, and they gave us a couple choices of schools. Kents Hill was one of them. I visited here before I attended here, and my parents and I discussed over and over, and Kents Hill was the best place for me.”
For Augusta native Robert Patenaude, it was a case of the law of probabilities.
“Well, my sister went to Kents Hill, and that’s how I ended up hearing about it,” Patenaude said. “In honest truth, she said she didn’t really like it much. My sister and I have been opposites. I figured I’d like it, and I did. It was great”
Ota and Patenaude represent two things you can count on at Kents Hill: Students from diverse backgrounds, and a top-notch boys tennis team.
After finishing 9-0 last spring in the Maine Association of Independent Schools Athletic Directors (MAISAD), the Huskies are 7-0 this year. They beat Waterville 5-0 in a non-conference match, losing a total of four games in 10 sets.
Patenaude will play at Division II St. Anselm, while No. 1 singles player Zach Miller plans to play at D-II Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Danielle Sheppard, who plays No. 2 singles, is deciding between a couple Division III colleges.
“And then, Shin, who’s only a junior, is as good as those guys,” Kents Hill coach Pat McInerney said. “So we’ve got four kids that could play in college. For a high school team out of Maine, that’s very unusual.”
There’s good reason to believe the Huskies are better than last year’s unbeaten champions. Ota was the No. 1 singles player last season, and in fact was the runner-up in the individual MAISAD singles tournament. This spring, he’s at No. 3 singles, and it’s not because of any falloff in his game.
“I don’t really care about it,” Ota said. “I mean, I wish I could play one, but apparently Zach is really good.”
McInerney said Patenaude — who plays first doubles for Kents Hill — is in a similar situation.
“Robert Patenaude played singles his sophomore year,” McInerney said. “Then last year, he had to play doubles, because his team got better. This year, he could easily be playing singles, and he’s still playing doubles. Most other places, he’d be playing No. 1 right now.”
But if Patenaude had played singles last season, he would have missed out on some fun. He and Sam Hall went undefeated at No. 1 doubles.
“We had like the perfect game for each other,” Patenaude said. “He was really consistent and could put the ball generally where he wanted, and for me, it was a lot of just putaways. When he would serve, most of the points would just consist of him serving, them hitting a ball, and then just me poaching on it for a winner. When I’d serve, they’d pop it up, and he’d take it as a winner.”
While Patenaude goes about 6 foot 3, 140 lbs., Miller stands about 5-6. He grew up in Minnesota (so Maine’s winters weren’t much of a shock for him) and is heavily involved with the Israeli Tennis Centers Foundation.
“There’s 14 tennis centers in Israel, and 13 are in underprivileged neighborhoods,” Miller said. “It’s a really important program to me. It’s called Israeli Tennis Centers, but it’s really like for kids to just come and have a safe place to study. I’ll be a part of it my whole life.”
McInerney doesn’t know Kents Hill’s historical record off the top of his head, but said, “it’s something like 110 wins to 14 losses in the last 10 to 12 years.” When a tennis player visits the campus, McInerney angles to get him on the court.
“We have no scholarships for tennis,” McInerney said. “There’s no recruitment whatsoever. But whenever a student comes to Kents Hill, we always list what their interests are. So if they say tennis, I’m going to talk to them, and if I think they may be varsity, I’ll try to get them out there to hit. I know that made a difference with Daniel when he came. I know it made a difference with Shin when he came. I know it made a difference with Zach.”
If you’re trying to picture this, McInerney says that yes, the prospective student will be wearing ahis dress clothes, and if he didn’t bring his racket, McInerney will lend his for the session.
“We have a guy coming next year — who’s coming for one year — from Dayton, Ohio, and he was thinking about a couple different independent schools,” McInerney said. “But he came and hit with these guys, and said, âOK, I’m coming to Kents Hill.'”
Perhaps surprisingly, a school with the quality of facilities of Kents Hill doesn’t have indoor courts available in the winter. Indoor courts are available now, but come winter, the ice will be back down and they will be part of the hockey rink.
But players who are thinking about playing in college don’t play only in season, so they take advantage of somewhat nearby facilities.
“These kids would all like to play more and better,” McInerney said. “So they do go down to Bates. One of our alums (Elena Mandzhukova) is the No. 1 player at Bates on the girls side, so we have a good connection at Bates. A number of these guys will go down for clinics in the wintertime. Daniel Sheppard played tennis all fall. A number of these guys would like to play year-round, but that’s not really an option. We don’t have any indoor courts in the wintertime, so we go down to Bates at least once a week in the wintertime. These kids are committed to playing pretty high-level tennis when they’re home, as well as when they’re here.”
So if you’re on the Kents Hill campus and a young man in slacks, a dress shirt, and tie is playing tennis, you might want to stop and watch him. He’s probably pretty good, and he may help the Kents Hill dynasty continue.