Jared McLaughlin wasn’t sure just what he was going to do with his time this spring.

The senior was coming off of a championship run with the Winthrop boys basketball team, and he was considering either playing more basketball or playing baseball like he did his junior year, when the school didn’t have a boys tennis team.

Winthrop was going to have one this season, however. And McLaughlin decided to change his plans.

Winthrop’s Jared McLaughlin is the Kennebec Journal Boys Tennis Player of the Year. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“I was definitely on the fence,” he said. “I talked to (Winthrop player) Josh (Deanda-Whaley), and he was like ‘You ought to play, it’ll be fun. We can have a great season.’ And I was like ‘OK, we can do this.’ ”

It turned out to be a good decision for all involved. With McLaughlin anchoring the team at the No. 1 singles spot, Winthrop took its first season back together as a team all the way to the Class C South final. For his performance this season, McLaughlin is the Kennebec Journal Boys Tennis Player of the Year. Hall-Dale’s Isaac Lawrence and Gardiner’s Dustin Allard were also considered.

“It was a great season. We came into this season not knowing what was going to happen,” McLaughlin said. “We got some great players coming up, great athletes, and to help with my success, I had really good players to play against in practice.”

After making the decision to play, one of McLaughlin’s first jobs was as a recruiter in trying to flesh out the Winthrop roster.

“We were like ‘Come on out, we’re going to have a team this year,’ ” he said. “Recruiting definitely helped, because you got some kids that played baseball in the past, but wanted to play tennis just to play a sport and have something to do. And they ended up loving it.”

There was an adjustment to make, however. The top singles spot fell to McLaughlin, who played first doubles as a freshman and second singles as a sophomore. He only lost one match at second singles, but finding out he was going to get the Ramblers’ top spot — after a year’s hiatus, no less — was daunting at first.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking at the beginning, because I was like ‘Oh no, they’re going to be really good,’ ” he said. “My mindset was that if I can return it, I can play with anyone. So at the beginning of the season, I tried to keep returning it and make the others make a mistake.”

Winthrop coach Kelsey Ouellette, however, worked on weaning her players, McLaughlin included, off of the tentative approach.

“Miss Ouellette just put us through a bunch of drills that made us better at attacking instead of playing safe,” he said. “With her coaching, I just developed what I needed to to attack and play more aggressively.”

That bolder approach complemented a game that was already at a good starting point.

“I knew that I was going to be fine if they hit it to my forehand,” he said, “because my forehand, I can almost always consistently just spin it back over, make minimal mistakes and keep the ball alive.”

Consistency, however, isn’t always enough at No. 1, where opponents are less likely to be lured into unforced errors. Players have to string together some winners, and McLaughlin gained that ability as the season went on.

“My finishing shots were a lot better,” he said. “I learned how to place the ball really well, and I could put power behind it. At the beginning, I was the one just lobbing it back. By the end of the season, with the power I would put behind it, the other players were just trying to hit it back.”

One of the matchups that showed that improvement was between McLaughlin and Lawrence. The Hall-Dale ace beat him in the season opener, but McLaughlin bounced back with a 10-3 victory in the second-to-last match of the regular season. They met again in the C South semifinals and McLaughlin took the rubber match, prevailing 6-3, 6-1.

It was also a 5-0 Winthrop victory and the Ramblers’ third win in as many tries against the Bulldogs, which was McLaughlin’s biggest takeaway from the afternoon.

“From basketball, I know it’s hard to beat a good team three times,” he said. “Going into that match, I was like ‘Uh oh, this could be either team’s match.’ … But then we came out and played our game.”

The ride came to an end in the C South final against Waynflete, but the spring was a surprising success — for both the Ramblers and their top singles player.

“I guess some people call it a ‘Cinderella’ story,” he said.

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