The enthusiasm in long-time Erskine tennis coach Ryan Nored’s voice is noticeably greater heading into this season.

And with good reason. The Eagles return two of their top players Regina Harmon and Ellie Hodgkin, who reached the Round of 48 in the state tournament last season.

Both players are relatively new to the sport, with Harmon picking it up her freshman year and Hodgkin in eighth grade.

“My forehand is better and I’ve got more speed on my hits. I’ve also got better with the mental part of the game,” Harmon said.

While Erskine returns a deep squad, Waterville should also be a formidable foe in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

Last year, Erskine (9-4) beat Waterville 3-2 in the last regular-season match before losing to the Purple Panthers by the same score in the Class B North tournament.

“I think we should be a top three or four team in KVAC, along with Waterville and Lincoln Academy,” Nored said. “Our internal goal is to play in the KVAC championship game this year.”

Waterville heads into the season with a new head coach after Jill Cristan left to coach the Winslow girls.

New Waterville head coach Devin Lachapelle is familiar with the program, having been an assistant coach with the junior varsity program.

Lachapelle takes over a Waterville team that returns a number of players from last year’s squad that went 10-2 and made it to the Class B North semifinals, where it dropped a 3-2 decision to Camden Hills.

“We have six of the seven starters returning with four decent freshmen who could start at some point this season,” Lachapelle said.

Also in KVAC B, Maranacook lost only one starter. Coach Lou Gingras said his Black Bears should contend for the playoffs.

Maranacook will be led again by junior Madelyn Dwyer, who also qualified for the Round of 48 last season. With sophomore Emma Wadsworth and senior Karissa Lucas returning at the singles positions, Maranacook should have the depth to make a late-season run this spring.

Perhaps the biggest surprise last spring was Carrabec, which went 9-1 in the regular season. The Cobras capped their season with a 5-0 opening-round win over Dirigo in the Class C South playoffs before falling to eventual state champion Waynflete.

Coach Nora Ellis’ team was paced by Katrina Mason, who returns for her senior season after being seeded 11th overall in the state individual tournament last spring. She made it to the Round of 32.

Remarkably, Mason didn’t start playing tennis until her freshman year.

“I think my confidence is better,” she said. “That was a big issue in the tournament last year. I was incredibly nervous.”

After taking last year off, Caroline Mathes is back for her 15th season leading Messalonskee.

Last year’s coach, Lynn Richard, will be focusing on developing the junior varsity squad given the large turnout — all seven starters returned for the Eagles.

Sophomore Lauren Bourque is the returning No. 1 singles player after a strong freshman campaign. Returning singles players Amanda Wiswell and Elena Guarino will also compete in singles.

Elsewhere in KVAC A, Wilbur Shardlow said his Cony team should improve on last year’s 5-7 season. Most of the top players return from last year, although senior Alyana Clark is out for the season with a broken collarbone.

“Quite a few of the girls have put in some offseason work at A-Copi Tennis & Sports Center,” Shardlow said. “This is a major step forward for Cony tennis.”

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