WATERVILLE — Waterville senior Emma Cristan has enjoyed playing team sports such as basketball all her life, while also growing up with a tennis coach for a mother. But nothing gets her adrenaline going like standing on a court with a racket in her hands.

“Tennis, it’s just me on the court, and I love that,” she said. “But sometimes I meet with (mother Jill, the Purple Panthers’ tennis coach) between sets and she says ‘Just breathe. You need to bring yourself together.'”

Like many high school tennis players, Cristan rose through the ranks as a doubles player before stepping out as Waterville’s No. 1 singles player last year, earning Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors and reaching the round of 32 in the state singles tournament.

“A year ago, I was challenge matching girls on my team and I ended up in the first singles position. I wasn’t expecting that, honestly,” she said.

“Now that I’m doing singles, I could never go back to doubles,” she said.

As much as she enjoyed the singles spotlight, it was still an adjustment for her to deal with handling 100 percent of the responsibility when things weren’t going so well.

“Doubles you can always rely on your partner to help you out, and Emma did. So it was hard (when she became the Panthers’ No. 1 singles player as a junior), she was too tough on herself,” Jill said. “I didn’t want her opponent to see her frustration. And we’re still working on that.”

A more assertive, confident and composed Cristan leads a young Waterville team into the season with hopes of continuing the program’s winning tradition while seeing how far she can go in the singles tournament.

Recently named captain, Emma is playing the role of mentor.

“It’s a lot different than last year. We’re just taking it day by day and slowly getting there,” Emma said. “I’m kind of taking the underclassmen under my wing and helping them out as much as a I can. We definitely have some girls to fill the shoes the girls that left last year.”

The Purple Panthers shut out rival Winslow, 5-0, in their KVAC Class B opener last Thursday, and Cristan, who will attend the University of Maine (which only has club tennis) next fall, is all in for her scholastic career curtain call.

“I have nothing to lose at this point. It’s my last season playing,” she said.

“Over the summer we played a lot. I’ve been trying to work on my serve the most and just getting stronger,” she added. “I’ve been in the gym a lot trying to work on my strength.”

As she’s gained confidence, she’s become more aggressive on the court. As she’s gained experience, she’s become more analytical on the court, too.

“Emma has really developed at coming to the net, mixing it up a little bit, making her opponent move and figuring out what their weaknesses are,” Jill said.

The experience of last year’s state singles tournament provide extra motivation for Emma. She defeated Fort Kent’s Alexa Pelletier in two sets in the first round, then lost to the 11th seed, Margot Andreasen of Portland, who is now playing at Endicott.

“Going into the singles tournament last year, I really didn’t know what to expect. All of the girls were really strong,” she said. “I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was when these girls who were so strong were coming at me. But I think I handled it pretty well for the most part. This season I know exactly what I’m in for, and I think I have a good chance.”

Cristan’s strength is her backhand. Her goal going into matches has typically been to get off to a fast start and then exploit her opponent’s weaknesses. Improving her serve and play around the net will give her more firepower to do that.

With this being their last season together as coach and player, Emma and Jill made a pact to make their last season the most fun. Emma is grateful for the fun, and not-so-fun, moments they’ve already had together.

“Obviously, having your mom as a tennis coach is some of the best times and some of the worst times,” she said with a laugh. “We try to keep tennis on the court and not bring it home, but honestly, just being on the court and hearing your mom and her being your coach at the same time, it’s something special.”

“I can tell in practice that she’s pushing me a lot harder. Of course. She expects a lot from me as my coach and as my mom,” Emma said. “She knows my game better than I do, so anything she says to me, I’m like, ‘You’re right. I can’t even argue.'”

“It’s been fun,” Jill said. “And we want to go on enjoying the game. That’s the purpose.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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