They were evenly matched in every way. Same individual record. Same amount of time as the No. 1 singles player. Finished the season in the same round of the singles tournament. Both were named to the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B all-conference first team.

And it spelled more success for the Waterville girls tennis team.

The duo of junior Colleen O’Donnell and freshman Tiffany Suchanek led the Purple Panthers to their third consecutive Eastern Maine Class B championship. The Panthers lost in the state title match to Falmouth, 3-2.

For their accomplishments, O’Donnell and Suchanek have been named Morning Sentinel Girls Tennis Co-Players of the Year. O’Donnell has now been named player of the year three consecutive seasons.

O’Donnell and Suchanek were so successful, in fact, that when giving out end of the season awards, Waterville coach Jill Cristan did not give out a most valuable player award.

Entering the season knowing the type of talent she had on her roster, Cristan devised a strategy: Use Suchanek as the No. 1 singles player for half the season, with O’Donnell as No. 2, then flip-flop at the halfway point.

Cristan said both players are evenly matched, but have one distinctive difference.

“Tiffany is a hard hitter,” Cristan said. “Colleen is a little more patient.”

The strategy worked, both individually and team-wise. Both O’Donnell and Suchanek finished the season 16-1, and the Panthers found themselves once again in the hunt for the state championship.

Both players, along with No. 3 singles player Olivia Lopes, practiced together and gave each other pointers throughout the season.

“A lot of times it was just the three of us trying out different drills, playing out points, or serving and returning,” O’Donnell said. “Simply playing with each other was playing some of the hardest competitions we’d face.”

Cristan said the trio worked on all facets of their games.

“None of the three like coming to the net, so that was hard,” Cristan said. “I had been drilling that for ages. They’re tired at the end of practice, because they try to one-up one another and each have a favorite drill they like to do.”

O’Donnell started out the singles tournament with a 6-1, 6-3 second round win over Kirsty Beauchene of Lewiston, the won 6-2, 6-0 against Ali Stankiewicz of Brunswick in the third round. She won these matches while dealing with tonsilitis, a sickness that eventually led to the removal of her tonsils at the end of the season.

The No. 3 seed in the tournament, O’Donnell fell 7-6 (3), 6-3 to Libby Voccola of Falmouth in the quarterfinals.

“Overall I think I met my expectations for this season,” O’Donnell said in an e-mail. “I do wish I had played a better match in the quarterfinals of the tournament and done some things differently, but (Voccola) was tough, consistent and hard to beat.”

Suchanek, who entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed, beat Amber Pritchard of Winthrop 6-0, 6-0 in the second round and picked up a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Abby Blakely of Camden Hills in the third round before losing 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in the quarterfinals to Julia Brogan of Falmouth.

Cristan said she thought that both players could make it to the semifinals, but the play of both exceeded her expectations.

“To get into the top eight, that was huge,” Cristan said. “We know those Falmouth girls are strong.”

Suchanek, who was on vacation in the Czech Republic, was unavailable for comment.

Both players return next season. In fact, the only player the Panthers lose is senior doubles player Lauren Hallenbeck.

“I am definitely excited for next year because most of our team is returning,” O’Donnell said. “We will miss a few seniors, but the remainder of our team is stil so strong and talented. We have improved as a group every year since I was a freshman and hopefully next year will be our strongest.”

Dave Dyer — 621-5639
[email protected]

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