Winter often elbows spring out of the way in Maine and overstays its welcome. That was the case this year, and that’s why one day early in the tennis season, the Waterville Senior High School girls and boys tennis teams spent time usually reserved for practice shoveling off the four Jim Begin courts on North Street.

After two hours of shoveling, Devin Lachapelle, the Waterville girls tennis coach, sent everybody home. Senior Sammi Saulter, the Purple Panthers’ No. 1 singles player looked around. Saulter had a question. Aren’t we staying until this is all done and all four courts are clear?

A very good player throughout her high school career, Saulter stepped up her game as a senior. A renewed commitment to tennis showed in Saulter’s play, as she went through the regular season with just one loss. In the state singles tournament, Saulter reached the final 16, upsetting No. 8 ranked Crystal Bell of John Bapst High School to get there.

For her efforts Sammi Saulter is the Morning Sentinel Girls Tennis Player of the Year. Lauren Bourque of Messalonskee and Katrina Mason of Carrabec also were considered.

“She put the time in in the offseason. It showed a lot during the season,” Lachapelle said.

It began last summer, when Saulter started working with coaches a few times a week in Brunswick. She saw every facet of her game improve.

“I never really had strategies. I never thought about what I was doing (on the court),” Saulter said. “This season, I had plays in mind. I had a game plan.”

Lachapelle noticed the difference. A former assistant coach in his first season as head coach of the Panthers, Lachapelle said this season, Saulter was ready to talk tactics when he coached her between sets.

“We could really talk about her opponents’ weaknesses and how she could use them,” Lachapelle said. “We had a real discussion I’d tell her what I saw, and she’d tell me what she was thinking.”

Saulter’s offseason work helped her develop her serves, her forehand cross-court shot with top spin that proved to be a great addition to her game. Her offseason coaches changed Saulter’s grip on her serves and forehand, and while it didn’t feel comfortable at first, when it clicked, it really clicked.

“At first I was mad. ‘This is not working. This does not feel good,'” Saulter said. “Then when I got it, it was ‘Oh, wow.'”

Saulter’s lone regular-season loss came against Lincoln Academy’s Caitlin Cass. It was a close, two-set loss, 7-5, 6-3, and Lachapelle said that loss helped Saulter’s confidence as she approached the singles tournament.

“She knew she could play with those top players,” he said.

Saulter’s first-round win over Lindsey Nevin of George Stevens Academy set up her match with the seeded Bell in the second round. Saulter took the win in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, but said the score does not show how close the match was. That day at Portland’s Deering Oaks Park was hot and windy, Saulter said, and that affected play.

“We had some long points. My endurance is probably one of my strong suits,” Saulter said. “I was proud of how I did for my first time (in the singles tournament).”

Saulter excelled in a leadership role with the Panthers, helping the team advance to the regional semifinals.

“She really stepped it up. She always wanted to help out. It was really nice to have somebody like that around,” Lachapelle said.

Wishing to stay in state, near family, and attend a big school, Saulter will move on to the University of Maine, where she plans to join the competitive club tennis team.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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