After a tough Maine winter, a beach in South Carolina seems especially appealing in mid-March. That’s one of the reasons Thomas College men’s tennis coach Jeff Fowler wants to make it an annual event for his team.

“This is a great recruiting tool,” Fowler said. “This was our inaugural trip. Who can complain about sun and tennis and beaches?”

Ten of the Terriers, along with Fowler and assistant coach Jim Begin, squeezed into a van and made the 20-hour drive to Hilton Head, S.C. Fowler said the entourage stayed seven days and seven nights, and because of fundraising last fall, all expenses for the players were covered except for food and a $100 deposit.

“We had to do a lot of fundraising,” Fowler said. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.”

From March 16-20, the Terriers played five matches, going 2-3. Fowler said the players also met up with the Wisconsin-Stevens Point women’s team and played some male vs. female and mixed doubles matches.

“It was just a lot of fun getting together,” Fowler said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”

Thomas is 4-4 overall, but as Fowler points out, they’ve played some tough competition. The Terriers have improved their North Atlantic Conference record every year under Fowler’s direction, from 1-7 in 2010 with his first team at Thomas to 5-1 last spring. The Terriers are 1-0 in the NAC this season, and have conference games on Friday and Saturday in Vermont against Johnson St. and Lyndon St.

Senior Eric Morin of Lewiston and Ellsworth grad Tyler Small are the top two singles players for Thomas, and also form the top doubles team.

“They’ve been a great 1-2 punch for us,” Fowler said. “We have more depth this year. We have close competition for 3 through 6.”

Of course, the big question is how Thomas will fare against three-time defending NAC champion Colby-Sawyer. Thomas finished second in the regular season standings last spring. The Terriers are at Colby-Sawyer on April 12.

“Colby Sawyer’s always tough,” Fowler said. “They’ve got 15 players this year. I know their coach. He’s a very dedicated coach. He even comes up to Maine to recruit.”

Begin is well-known in the Waterville area as a tennis guru, and because he joined the team about three weeks before the trip to South Carolina, Fowler jokes the trip is why Begin chose to be an assistant. But Begin helped with the driving and has been a presence both before and after everyone went down south.

“He’s just very generous with his time,” Fowler said. “He just wants people to learn the game and be a lifelong player. He knows his way around the tennis court. He helps at practices and he’s there for the home matches. He’s been a breath of fresh air for us.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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