Hall-Dale is dominating the Mountain Valley Conference with a small but battle-tested team. The Bulldogs are 7-0 and have yet to lose a single match this season.

Coach Guy Cousins likes his players to dictate the direction, tempo, pace and style of play in each match, and with their exceptional fitness level, footwork, experience and mental toughness, the Bulldogs have done just that.

“The girls are so focused this year,” Cousins said.

“Their consistency of play has been what’s most impressive,” he added.

The Bulldogs went into the season with just eight players, unusually low numbers for what is perennially one of the stronger programs in the MVC. But Cousins is pleased with how the players have bonded and picked up their teammates whenever needed.

“When the numbers go down like that, the relationships become even more important,” Cousins said.

The team is loaded with veterans from a squad that went 12-3, finished second in the MVC and reached the Western C semifinals last year.

Hard work over the offseason paid off for No. 1 Clio Barr, who has shown an improved serve and more aggressiveness in finishing off points. Fellow senior Nicole Pelletier would be a No. 1 on most teams.

Rio Yokokawa, an exchange student from Japan, emerged from a highly-competitive battle for the No. 3 spot and has played very well even while learning how to play outdoors for the first time.

“She’s such a consistent player. Technically, she’s been very well coached,” Cousins said.

The doubles teams of Autumn St. Pierre/Thea Sweet and Addie Davis/Rose Warren remain intact. St. Pierre and Sweet lost only one match last year and have overwhelmed their opponents this spring.

The upcoming stretch drive is also the toughest part of the Bulldogs’ schedule. On Tuesday, they will face the MVC’s only other unbeaten team, Winthrop (6-0), followed by Wiscasset (1-4) and St. Dominic (6-1).

• • •

While Hall-Dale boasts one of the most experienced teams in the MVC, Winthrop is more typical of the rest of the conference with a young nucleus that has had to adjust to more prominent roles.

Coach Jessica Merrill said no one is more surprised by her team’s 6-0 record than she is.

“We’re doing better than I thought we were going to do at the beginning of the season,” she said.

“It was kind of crazy at the beginning of the year because we couldn’t get on the courts because of the weather. We didn’t have a full team practice until the Friday before our first game,” she said.

The Ramblers graduated their first and third singles from last year, yet despite the lack of practice and experience, Merrill’s lineup hasn’t changed since day one. Sophomore Megan Chamberland, junior Celeste Hannum and sophomore Sarah Spahr have been solid all season. Olivia Audet and Katriona Hajduk anchor the doubles.

“Megan definitely is our leader,” Merrill said. “For such a young player, she’s got a lot of poise. She doesn’t get rattled or show that she’s rattled and a lot of the girls, they’ve really taken after that.”

“The girls all like each other,” she added. “We basically had to fill every spot this year and the girls all rotated from last year and they’ve enjoyed their roles. They just respect each other and they all help each other out in some kind of way.”

The Ramblers host unbeaten Hall-Dale on Tuesday. The Bulldogs have a veteran team that has steamrolled through the MVC this year, not losing a single match. But Merrill’s team hasn’t backed down from a challenge ever since a season-opening 3-2 win over defending MVC champion St. Dominic.

“I’m just looking for us to be consistent,” Merrill said. “I don’t think we were as consistent as we could have been with St. Dom’s. We beat them 3-2 but I think we could have played a lot better than we played.”

“We need to go out and just go for it (against Hall-Dale),” she added. “We’re young and I don’t think we have anything to lose against them. I think they’re the team to beat.”

• • •

The Waterville boys are 8-1 this season and sitting atop the Eastern B Heal point standings. The Purple Panthers have enjoyed their success, having already bettered last year’s 6-6 mark, but it’s been a bit of a mixed blessing.

Coach Sandor Nagy said the Panthers have gotten steady performances from their singles since the start of the season.

“Ilyas Khan is the No. 1. He’s the most polished player of them all,” Nagy said. “Fernando Ramiro is our No. 2 from Spain and he’s a great player who likes to work really hard and not give up any points. Soren Nyhus, he’s a pretty steady player and he’s only a freshman.”

Doubles consists mostly of newcomers to the sport, and while they’ve contributed, Nagy expressed frustration at how the lack of competition among central Maine Class B schools stunts all of the players’ development.

“That’s the only way they really do improve, seeing how better players or players of equal caliber play,” he said. “Competition is pretty much sorely lacking.”

Nagy said the disparity in competition was most notable when his team took on Camden Hills on May 1. Waterville has won 38 of 40 matches against the likes of Erskine, Maine Central Institute, Gardiner, Spruce Mountain and Winslow. Against Camden Hills, the Panthers lost, 5-0.

“Nobody is really a polished player, so if we go up against a team that knows what they’re doing, we get trounced,” Nagy said.

Nevertheless, the Panthers hope to close out the season strong with MCI, Winslow and Spruce Mountain in preparation for the team tournament, which starts June 2.

• • •

The regional singles qualifying round is scheduled for Saturday. Winners of the best two out of three tiebreak sets advance to the Round of 48, scheduled for May 29. Bangor High School hosts the Region 2 qualifier, with satellite sites at Brewer, Hermon, Hampden and Old Town. Lewiston High School will host Region 4. The Region 3 boys qualifier will be held at Buker Courts in Augusta. Mt. Ararat High School will host the Region 3 girls qualifier.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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