WINTHROP — Winthrop’s athletic boosters purchased a new ball machine for the boys and girls tennis teams this season. The machine helps players work on virtually any aspect of their game, prepare for future opponents’ strengths and reach a level of consistency in their game.

Junior Megan Chamberland, Winthrop’s top singles player, thinks it can make a big difference in how the Ramblers’ season plays out.

“We need to develop consistency so we keep the ball in play and keep the match going,” she said.

The Ramblers were runner-up to Hall-Dale in the Mountain Valley Conference last year and reached the Class C South quarterfinals. With another year of experience under their belt and, yes, a ball machine to help them refine their games, they think they can take the next step this year.

“We have pretty high expectations because we have the majority of our girls back from last year. We definitely are shooting for the MVCs. Hopefully, we’ll win it this time,” Chamberland said.

Chamberland and senior Celeste Hannum are co-captains for the second consecutive year. Along with junior Sarah Spahr, the Ramblers’ top three singles combined to lose just seven matches last year.

But the key to Winthrop’s season is Chamberland, a junior who went 10-2 last year and reached the round of 32 in the state singles tournament.

“She’s the backbone,” Winthrop coach Jessica Merrill said. “I know it’s only one match, but she solidifies how we practice, how we play in games. She doesn’t give up and we don’t give up.”

That Chamberland serves as a tone-setter and role model for the rest of the Ramblers is fitting since she started out learning tennis from outstanding former Ramblers such as Kelsey Ouellette and Lauren McHatten as a young girl in Winthrop’s rec program.

Chamberland plays other sports, including field hockey for Merrill. She enjoys the challenge of being a singles player with all of the pressure on her, but still counts on Merrill for support.

“Tennis is quite an independent sport, which is something that I really like about it because you control the outcome of the match a lot,” Chamberland said. “A lot of it does fall on the player, but she does help me think through the match, especially between sets talking it out and getting an outside perspective.”

Merrill’s perspective was that she needed to play indoor tennis over the winter to sharpen her skills, particularly her ground strokes and serve, and work on getting to the net more.

“I’m usually more of a baseline player, so I think that would be more offensive, to come to the net more and just put more pressure on the opponent,” she said.

“She’s really focused more on varying her shots,” Merrill said. “She does very well making her opponent move, but we’re really working on the depth of her shots, deep and short, really making them move. She’s really done a great job of trying to refocus where she’s going with her shots. It will pay off for her.”

Chamberland lost only one game in her first round state singles tournament against Brewer’s Catelyn Kimball before falling to Mt. Ararat’s Christine Levesque in the round of 32. As a sophomore, she wanted to soak it all in for future reference.

“I just kind of wanted to see how it went,” she said. “I was a sophomore competing against juniors and seniors mostly, so I didn’t know what to expect exactly. I was just happy to make it that far.”

“This year, I am shooting to beat my record of last year and go higher than the round of 32,” she said.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33