WATERVILLE — Early in Thursday’s regional quarterfinal match against Erskine Academy, the Waterville Senior High School boys tennis team fell behind in all five matches. A quick glance at every set of courtside scorecards saw the Eagles up, 1-0 or 2-1.

For the Purple Panthers, who played excellent tennis throughout the regular season, it was a hiccup, nothing more. Soon enough, Waterville was in charge of most matches, and on the way to a 5-0 Class B North quarterfinal win. At 13-0, the Panthers are the top seed in the region, and looking to reach the state finals for the first time since winning the Class A championship in 1998.

“We had a slow start in the preseason, then we won a few good matches in the regular season. Then we thought we could make a run,” Soren Nyhus, Waterville’s captain and number one singles player said after winning his match against Erskine’s Nick Howes, 6-4, 6-3.

Waterville’s Soren Nyhus hits a shot during a Class B North quarterfinal match against Erskine on Thursday at Colby College in Waterville. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

A good chunk of the Panthers’ motivation came from last year’s season-ending loss to Camden Hills in the regional championship.

“I came into the season ready to play. I was obviously devastated that we lost to Camden Hills. That was unfortunate, because we thought they should’ve been in Class A. It was obviously something that boosted us. We all wanted to come in stronger and better,” Mohammad Ali Atif-Sheikh, Waterville’s number two singles player, said. On Thursday, Atif-Sheikh earned a 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 win over Garrett Keezer.

The Panthers had chances in that 4-1 loss to Camden Hills, coach Rob Disch said. The team let a few shots that could’ve made a few matches closer slip away. That added fuel to Waterville’s determination entering this season.

“To know you could play with those guys. Now Camden going to Class A and kind of steamrolling through there, and we were right there with those guys,” Disch said. “Just knowing we could hit with those guys gave them a little more confidence and it gave them a little motivation for this year.”

Added Nyhus: “It taught us to believe we could actually make it pretty far.”

It was an early season match against this same Erskine team that showed Disch the Panthers had potential.

“The match against Erskine early in the year. I knew they were a deep squad, and had some guys that can play. We won that match 4-1, but there was some tight matches in there,” Disch said. “It was good for our guys to play the competition and get a feel for those close matches.”

Atif-Sheikh said he didn’t notice the team’s record until the Panthers had won four or five matches in a row. A tough midseason week that saw Waterville claim wins over Gardiner, Belfast, and Lincoln Academy convinced Atif-Sheikh his team was a contender.

Erskine’s Garrett Keezer hits a shot during a Class B North quarterfinal match Thursday at Colby College in Waterville. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“We won all three of those matches, and that kind of boosted our confidence a little,” Atif-Sheikh said.

Falling in the regional finals last year also helped the Panthers learn to stay calm and focused during a match.

“I feel like I get the most frustrated out of all of (the team), but we all keep our composure pretty well. Even if it’s not going well, we stick to it,” Atif-Sheikh said.

While Nyhus and Atif-Sheikh are talented returning players, the Panthers were bolstered by a group of newcomers, too. Third singles player Charlie Haberstock, a freshman, has shown improvement with each match, Disch said.

“He’s handled it very well. He’s held his own throughout the season. From the beginning of the season to now he’s come a long way,” Disch said of Haberstock, who won Thursday’s only three set match, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-4, over Sam Falla.

At second doubles, the team of junior newcomers Ben Danner and John Evans has also improved.

Erskine’s Sam Falla returns a shot during a Class B North quarterfinal match against Waterville on Thursday at Colby College in Waterville. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“They’re first year players playing second doubles and it’s a great spot for them. They’ve come leaps and bounds. Very athletic kids, and they do whatever it takes to get the ball back across the court. It doesn’t look pretty at times, but it doesn’t have to be. They just don’t give up and fight for everything,” Disch said.

At first doubles, returning players Conrad Ayers and Adam Livshits have been strong, and on Thursday were to first match completed, defeating Brock Glidden and Jacob Paul, 6-1, 6-4.

Waterville is one of three teams that entered the Class B North tournament undefeated, with No. 2 Caribou and No. 3 Foxcroft Academy also 12-0. Caribou and Foxcroft each won its quarterfinal match, and will face each other in the semis. Waterville will take on either No. 4 Belfast or No. 5 Ellsworth. With a full season of success to lean on, the Panthers still look at last season as inspiration.

“That showed those of us who were on that team we can actually make a pretty deep run,” Nyhus said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM