In many ways, the situation has completely changed for the Madison girls tennis team.

First, the Bulldogs had to see three of their five players from last year leave. But then the numbers grew, from those five players last year (forcing Madison to always forfeit a doubles match) to nine for this season.

Where things haven’t changed, however, is with the expectations. Madison was one of the best teams in the Mountain Valley Conference last year, and coach Josh Newhall thinks that can continue.

“There’s a lot of potential, a lot of raw talent,” he said. “I think, regardless of how the score looks, especially now, we’re close to honing in some skill and being right back where we were last year, as far as in this conference.”

Madison lost No. 1 singles player Jillian Holden and No. 3 Caitlyn Morgan, as well as Jenna Davis, who was half of the only doubles team. But with No. 2 Breanna Kanagy — whom Newhall called one of the most mentally tough players he’s coached — elevated to No. 1 and Kynsey Hibbard moved from doubles to No. 2 singles, the Bulldogs have stayed competitive at 2-2 and held off all that “rebuilding” talk.

“I wouldn’t (call it rebuilding) because of the mentality,” Newhall said. “As far as numbers-wise and your general rule of a rebuild year, I’d say yes. But these kids didn’t come in with that mentality. … They’re committed to making a run at this thing this year.”

That said, Newhall knows he didn’t have a roster of seasoned tennis players show up this season, and the focus has been turning good athletes into good tennis players as well.

“They’re all athletes from other sports, so it’s modifying habits from those,” he said. “Abi (Spaulding) has played softball her whole life, her tendency is tuck her elbow in with everything. So it’s extra ground strokes. … Shelby (Belanger), in soccer you don’t turn your hips. You square them to the ball. Well in tennis, you need to move your hips more. It’s critiquing little things, but using that raw athleticism.”

By tapping into that ability, Newhall likes the Bulldogs’ chances.

“I think you keep your foot on the gas with building a program and being successful,” he said. “That’s my message to the girls, and that’s going to be our plan throughout the rest of the season.”

• • •

The Skowhegan girls tennis team is well on the way to a turnaround season. After finishing with a 6-6 record last year, the team has jumped out to a 3-0 start, and currently sits third in the Class A North standings.

“I really couldn’t be much happier,” Skowhegan head coach Andrew Staples said. “I’ve been kind of waiting for a season like this where things just kind of happen the way they should, and they seem to be so far. We’re riding that wave as long as it will let us.”

Skowhegan opened the season by edging out Cony 3-2 on April 29. Since then, the team has racked up more dominant victories, beating Hampden 4-1 on May 1, and picking up a 4-1 victory over Mt. Blue last week.

Staples was particularly happy with the victory over the Cougars.

“That’s a team that’s always given us trouble, so I was a little anxious going into that one, wondering what was going to happen,” Staples said. “We had a really good day. We won 4-1. One match went three sets, everything else went straight sets. It gave me a little bit of confidence as a coach.”

Skowhegan boasts a veteran-heavy lineup — nearly all of the lineup has returned from last season — and Staples said a strength for the team has been the quality of singles performers.

“When preseason rolled around, there was absolutely no clear-cut No. 1 on the team,” Staples said. “All my singles players were in marginal differences of each other. It was just kind of a gut feeling to pick out the (current) lineup, and it seems to have worked out. It’s a really solid team from top to bottom”

A pleasant surprise for Staples has been junior Emily Reichenbach, a returning doubles player who greatly improved her game during the offseason.

“She showed up in preseason and just made me do a double-take,” Staples said. “She just transformed from last year. She played a lot in the summer with her dad, I guess, and just came out with guns blazing.”

• • •

The biggest surprise so far in the tennis season may be the early success of the Withrop boys tennis team.

After not fielding a team in 2018, the Ramblers are back, and have jumped out to a 3-0 record to start the season, and enter the week as the No. 1 team in the Class C South standings.

Not only is Winthrop undefeated, but the Ramblers have done so in dominant fashion, winning with scores of 4-1 (vs. No. 2 Carrabec), 4-1 (vs. Hall-Dale) and 5-0 (vs. Madison).

It likely helps that the Winthrop roster is not filled with newcomers. Leading the pack are seniors Beau Brooks, Sammy Lattin and Jared McLaughlin, who were all on the team when it last played in 2017.

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