Spring after spring, day after day, Waterville girls tennis coach Jill Cristan watched Colleen O’Donnell play in practices and matches. After all that, Cristan still sounds surprised at how graceful and natural O’Donnell looked on the court.

“She has such finesse,” Cristan said. “She has such fine-tuned strokes. I mean, they’re beautiful. It looks effortless to her.”

O’Donnell has been one of the top tennis players in the state since her freshman year, and this season was her best. As a senior, she reached the semifinals of the state singles tournament, and led Waterville to the Class B final against Greely. That makes O’Donnell the choice as the Morning Sentinel Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

In 2013, Waterville had O’Donnell, Olivia Lopes and Tiffany Suchanek in the state singles tournament. When Suchanek and Lopes decided not to play for Waterville this season, the Purple Panthers’ expectations were downgraded — but not in O’Donnell’s mind.

“I knew it was going to be tougher, but I knew we were still going to be a good team,” O’Donnell said. “I knew we could make it to states.”

O’Donnell didn’t say it, but Cristan believes part of the reason Waterville remained strong was O’Donnell’s leadership.

“She’s a silent leader,” Cristan said. “She totally leads by example. She just has that way about her. She just knows to keep herself busy, to keep the other girls busy. She’s always pushing everyone to do a little bit more. It’s a subtle quality. I don’t think a lot of coaches see it.”

Perhaps surprisingly, O’Donnell improved and became dominant while still playing other sports. During this past school year, she started for the Waterville soccer team that lost on penalty kicks in the state final, and was one of the top basketball players in the area.

“Colleen’s an all-around athlete. That’s a huge advantage,” Cristan said. “I would take any two-sport athlete, three-sport athlete any day. It helps so much with conditioning.”

Still, O’Donnell has played more than enough tennis to learn her strengths and how to approach each opponent.

“She definitely sees the court,” Cristan said. “She’s a very patient player. She knows when to ride it out, and when to cut the point short. She can catch on very quickly what style of player she’s playing against. That’s her biggest strength: Her head is in the game. She’s so focused.”

O’Donnell’s conditioning and court sense showed on the second day of the state singles tournament. Playing her second match of the day, she beat Falmouth’s Julia Brogan, the No. 4 seed, 6-2, 6-4. O’Donnell won the final five games of the second set after trailing 4-1.

“Julia and I had a great match,” O’Donnell said. “I played one of the best matches I’ve ever had.”

In the state team tournament, Waterville faced Greely, and O’Donnell was done early after cruising to an easy win. Every other match went to three sets, but Greely won all of them, and the state championship.

“What sticks out is just how close every match was,” O’Donnell said. “If a couple more points went our way, things could have changed. But we gave our best effort. It was a good match.”

O’Donnell will continue to play tennis at Stonehill College. The Skyhawks were 17-7 this season, with only one senior on their roster.

“First of all, it’s a beautiful campus,” O’Donnell said. “It’s just such a welcoming environment. I met the tennis team. I loved the coach and the players. I’m just excited for everything about it.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.