The Round of 48 for the boys and girls state singles tennis tournament is still a little less than three weeks away, but the road to Bates College begins this week.
On Wednesday the seedings for each of Maine’s five regions will be determined for the MPA Singles Qualifying Tournament, which for most schools in Kennebec County — Region 3 — will take place Saturday at the Buker Courts in Augusta beginning at 9 a.m.
“It’s an exciting time for the kids,” said Region 3 Director Scott Bell.
For those competing this weekend, starting fast will be a must early on given the format. In the initial rounds, pro sets to eight games will be played with a tiebreaker to 12 if the match goes to 8-all.
Once the tourney advances to the point where the winners will advance to the Round of 48, competitors will play traditional best two out of three matches.
For Region 3, 16 berths — eight boys, eight girls — will be up for grabs for the opening round of the state tournament on Friday, May 30, at Colby College. At that point, only the best tennis players in the state regardless of class or conference will be remaining.
“It’s our best tennis players. Period,” Bell, a Farmingdale native and former competitor in the tournament himself, said. “I tell them every year (before the start of the qualifier) you are embarking on a journey for the one true state championship.”
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While there will be a focus on individual play in the coming week, the team aspect couldn’t be going any better at this point at Hall-Dale High School.
Both teams are off to undefeated starts — the boys 6-0 and the girls 5-0 — in the Mountain Valley Conference, and are hoping they can maintain the same success going forward.
“We’re putting ourselves in the position to definitely be one of the contenders,” girls coach Guy Cousins said of his three-time defending MVC champion squad.
Cousins’ squad has been led by a trio of veteran singles players in No. 1 Clio Barr, No. 2 Maura Stottler and No. 3 Nicole Pelletier that, according to their coach, have abilities that go beyond a strong forehand.
“That’s a very seasoned group, two juniors and one senior,” Cousins said. “They’re all great, great competitors and have great aptitude in knowing what it takes to be ready to play.
“…They play with a lot of passion for the game and they know what the formula is to be successful.”
Cousins also said his No. 1 doubles team of junior Auburn St. Pierre and sophomore Thea Sweet have developed some great chemistry despite it being their first year playing together, while the group of freshmen Rose Warren, Addie Davis, Jamie DeRush and junior Gretta Thiele have done a nice job of filling in at No. 2 doubles by committee.
The Bulldog boys, meanwhile, have a combined record that speaks for itself: 29-1. Hall-Dale’s lone loss came at second doubles to Carrabec on May 2, and coach Dan Bence credits part of his team’s early success to a number of players working out indoors at the A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center in Augusta while ice and snow lingered into April on courts throughout the state.
“We had several kids who took advantage,” Bence said, “and that really helped us.”
In singles, No. 1 senior Josh Peterson, No. 2 junior Bryson Camp and No. 3 senior Nicholas Bates have yet to lose a match this season. Sophomore Andy Peterson and senior Ryan Branscom have been playing No. 1 doubles, although junior Thomas Plourde has seen some time there as well. When not playing No. 1 doubles, Plourde has played No. 2 with either junior Jake Young or sophomore Jacob Crockett.
Even with the early success of both teams, each know their toughest challenges lay ahead — particularly with a stretch of opponents that include St. Dominic, Boothbay and Monmouth, among others.
“We have five really tough teams coming up in a row,” Bence said. “They are going to have to play in every position and play really well.”
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The Hall-Dale girls are not the only three-time defending conference champs looking to lay claim to championship No. 4 this season.
Like the Bulldogs, Waterville is off to a 5-0 start so far this season as they look to once again capture the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference B title this spring.
Also like Hall-Dale though, Waterville has been relatively untested so far this season. The Purple Panthers have only played one team with a winning record so far — Maranacook (4-2 Western Class B) — but that will all change today.
Waterville and Camden Hills (5-0 Eastern Class B) were supposed to face each other on May 2, but that match was postponed due to weather. The two teams will make that match up today at 3:30 p.m. at Camden Hills.
“Tomorrow is our biggest challenge,” Waterville coach Jill Cristan said. “They’re our favorite rival and we all look forward to it.”
While Cristan said her team was ready to face the Windjammers earlier this season, it certainly does not hurt that they got a few more matches under their belts before the meeting with Camden Hills.
“It’s always good to hit more before you see them,” Cristan said. “Our practices are always strong — sometimes stronger than our matches — but we were ready for them then and we’re ready for them right now.”
Cristan went on to say she’s not quite sure how the match will play out, other than that it should be competitive. The Panthers will have their full compliment of players available, which will certainly help given that most of them are playing at new spots on the ladder this season.
No. 1 singles player senior Colleen O’Donnell is the only Panther in the same spot as last season, while classmate Emily Dufour has been solid at No. 2 so far. Singles newcomer junior Olivia Benissan has also played well at No. 3, according to Cristan.
Senior Jayme Saulter has provided strong leadership to the doubles group, and is off to a good start with playing partner sophomore Emma Cristan. Sophomore Fotini Shanos and junior Chelsea Cayer round out the ladder at No. 2 doubles.
Evan Crawley——621-5640[email protected]Twitter: Evan_Crawley