Mt. Blue boys tennis coach Zac Conlogue had a new challenge for Tom Marshall for the senior’s final season. Always a doubles player, Marshall would instead be playing singles.

And not only that, he’d be in the No. 1 spot as well.

“I always had faith in him. When we played doubles, he was always one of the guys who on any given day could get that point for us,” Conlogue said. “He’s very good under pressure, and he lives for those big moments.”

Marshall ended up proving his coach right. The Cougars’ ace led his team to the Class A North semifinals, sporting a 10-5 record for the year. For his performance, Marshall is the Morning Sentinel Boys Tennis Player of the Year.

The 10-5 record comes with an impressive caveat — three of those losses came to Mt. Ararat’s Nick Mathieu, the state singles champion.

“Three of my losses were to … the No. 1 player in the state,” Marshall said. “So I don’t feel too bad about that record.”

And he shouldn’t, especially considering the adjustment that was needed to obtain it. Playing singles is a vastly different challenge from playing doubles, and Marshall had to almost learn the sport over again, all while knowing that he’d be going against each team’s top player.

“It’s a different game,” he said. “You’re moving around, it’s more mental. You don’t have another person to lean on. For me, I knew that if I messed up, it was on me. And that was probably one of the harder things to think about.”

There was a physical element to it as well. Speed, agility and anticipation matter more in singles than in doubles. Marshall even had to bolster his shot arsenal, as the shots that work in doubles don’t always work in singles.

“One of the things that I sort of figured out relatively quickly that I needed to do was get a better serve, and just a faster serve,” he said. “In doubles you’re hitting a lot of spin serves, serves that are working on moving the players to the outside of the court. They’re not as hard, but they have more spin.

“In singles, you’re trying to not let your opponent be able to return your serve easily, so I had to work on faster, flatter serves that I could hit.”

Marshall did a good enough job of adding those elements to his repertoire that, when the season began, Conlogue could see a player who belonged at the top of the ladder.

“He put some time in in the offseason. He got some guys out early, started playing with them,” he said. “He came into the season and he looked like our best player from Day 1.”

It took a while, however, for Marshall’s comfort level to match his talent. He struggled in an early loss to Lewiston’s Cole Ouellette, and soon faced another challenge in Bangor’s Connor Lee, a sophomore playing his second season at top singles. But Marshall had seen his game improve toward the end of the Ouellette loss, and against Lee, the trend continued.

“We weren’t really sure how that match would go, and Tom came out and really played well, beat him 6-1, 6-4. After that, he really just had the confidence,” Conlogue said. “That was kind of the turning point. Once he had a good win, he felt like he could beat anyone.”

As Marshall’s play and record improved, eventually earning him a bye into the Round of 32 in the singles tournament, so did his mindset. The senior acknowledged that focus, once a lagging part of his skill set, became an asset.

“One of the things I took from my coaches was to stop worrying about things I couldn’t control,” he said. “Definitely, in the beginning of the season, I’d be thinking about what second doubles was doing or something that I did previously that was bad that prohibited me from doing well in the next point. What I learned as the season went on was just to focus on the game and not really focus on much else.”

For Marshall, it was just the latest successful adjustment in a season that was full of them.

“I knew he’d take a few lumps at the beginning of the year,” Conlogue said. “But then he really started to settle in mid-season, and really played some of his best tennis toward the end of the year.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM