The Hall-Dale boys tennis team came into this spring expecting a strong season. After all, the Bulldogs were 12-2 last year, and won the Mountain Valley Conference championship.
Hall-Dale took care of business in the regular season and again won the MVC title. The Bulldogs now take a 12-0 record into the Western C tournament. Hall-Dale coach Dan Bence said it’s the first time in his five years with the Bulldogs that they’ve gone undefeated.
The top-ranked Bulldogs host No. 8 St. Dominic (5-6) on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Hall-Dale posted a 5-0 win when the teams met on May 14.
“St. Dom’s has a really good coach (Kevin Cullen), so I’m sure that he’ll be making adjustments,” Bence said. “It’s certainly not anything close to a given. Even though we beat them five to nothing, we had some close matches. I expect that to be a good, solid match. We know they’re good, all the time. That’s a feather in our hat if we can beat St. Dom’s.”
Bence said the biggest reason for Hall-Dale’s success is the team’s three seniors. Josh Peterson and Ryan Branscom play first and third singles, respectively, and Peterson won a match at the state singles tournament. Nick Bates, the other senior, plays first doubles.
“We have three seniors on the team — excellent leadership from them,” Bence said. “The rest of the team looks up to them. They’re there to help the underclassmen. They help recruit kids to come play tennis. They’ve been four-year letterwinners, so they’ve been there. They all started out as doubles players, and two of them are playing singles now. Happy to have them. Sad to lose them.”
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Waterville is chasing its fourth consecutive Eastern B girls tennis championship. The Purple Panthers took a major step toward that by finishing the regular season undefeated and securing the No. 2 seed in Eastern B.
“We’re actually in a really good spot right now,” Waterville coach Jill Cristan said. “The momentum is just picking up. Consistency is good. Communication is good. Serving is good. So their game is at their peak right now, so I feel like everyone’s in a good spot.”
The Panthers are off until Thursday, when they host a quarterfinal against the winner of Tuesday’s preliminary round match between Foxcroft and Old Town.
No. 1 singles player Colleen O’Donnell isn’t exactly on a break, as she won three matches between Friday and Saturday at the singles tournament. O’Donnell advanced to the final four, and will face No. 1 seed and defending champion Olivia Leavitt, of Falmouth, at 9:30 a.m., Monday at Bates College.
Waterville had three players win two matches in last year’s Round of 48, but O’Donnell is the only one who returned to the Panthers this spring. Olivia Lopes and Tiffany Suchanek are not playing tennis for Waterville this year. The Panthers steered back on track by putting senior Emily Dufour at No. 2 singles, junior Olivia Benissan at third singles, and adjusting from there.
“New blood is always good, and you kind of take â€˜em and groom â€˜em,” Cristan said. “They’re great athletes, very coachable. It took me a while to just kind of feel where they should belong, doubles or singles. I did the ladder, and that stayed the same throughout the season, so that was nice. It worked out well.”
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At the Round of 48 singles tournament on Friday and Saturday at Colby College, St. Dominic freshman Bethany Hammond, of Belgrade, was there as one of the competitors and advanced to Monday’s semifinals. Hammond’s older sister, Sadie, was also in Waterville as part of Bethany’s cheering section.
Sadie, who takes classes online through Laurel Springs Prep School, recently reached a long sought-after milestone of her own: She’s officially ranked worldwide as a doubles player.
Hammond, 17, earned that status by winning a doubles match while partnered with Kateryna Yergina on May 5 in Raleigh, N.C.
“You need three points to get the ranking, and I had — slowly — got three of them,” Hammond said. “To get a point, you need to make it into main draw. I was playing my last (qualifying) match, and I knew that if I got this match, it was going to be the one to get that ranking, so I was really focused. I had a good partner, too, and we pulled it through.”
Yergina, a 23-year-old from the Ukraine, was ranked as high as 608th in the world in doubles back in 2007. Hammond said the two had never played as doubles partners before. Hammond is currently ranked 1,305th in the world in doubles.
“It will help me get into the main draw of tournaments, so I can get more points, and raise that ranking,” Hammond said.
Hammond’s next goal is to get her world singles ranking. For that, she may enter tournaments in Mexico.
“I had hoped I had gotten them before this, but things work out for a reason,” Hammond said. “I feel like getting that last point was really a confidence boost for me. My singles game has gotten a lot better ever since (September).”