Members of the 1991 Waterville boys tennis team celebrate after winning the Eastern Maine title. From left are Rafe Dahlquist, Steve Potts, Josh Maisel, John Brody and coach Tom Hinds. Submitted photo

Editor’s note: This is the 19th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

It’s been nearly 30 years. And for Tom Hinds, it still stings.

It stings that the Waterville boys tennis team faced the best team in the state — perhaps the best team the state had seen. And that the Purple Panthers gave a Cheverus dynasty everything it could handle in the 1991 Class A final.

And that they fell one match, one set, shy.

“It does, there’s no doubt,” said Hinds, the former Waterville coach and current Cony boys tennis coach. “We gave it everything we could. One of those things, we almost made history.”

He’s not alone. Cheverus’ 3-2 victory over Waterville, made final when Mark Ardito eked out a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Cameron Potts at No. 3 singles, still hurts the players when the time comes to reminisce.

“They should have been 63-1,” said John Brody, a senior and part of the No. 1 doubles tandem with Josh Maisel. “We thought we should beat Cheverus. … You have a chance to beat an undefeated (team) that hadn’t lost in your entire high school career, and it comes down to one set in the fifth match, that one hurts.”

Cheverus was loaded. The Stags had the best player in the state and a future professional in Roman Pavlik. Their singles players went on deep runs at the state singles tournaments. Their doubles teams dominated their competition.

But Waterville, too, was strong. The Panthers had perhaps the state’s best freshman in No. 2 singles player Pete Haase. They had the best doubles tandem in Maine in Brody and Maisel. And they had an unshakable confidence that 1991 was going to be their year.

John Brody played at No. 1 doubles for the 1991 Waterville boys tennis team. Submitted photo

“(Hinds) kept beating the drum, ‘Why not us? Why not us?’ ” said Brody, an executive at World Wrestling Entertainment living in Westport, Connecticut. “We really believed we not only could do it, but should do it.”

Hinds had his players believing in themselves, but also each other. Tennis, particularly in singles play, can feel like an individual sport, but Hinds preached the team concept throughout the season.

“I fondly remember Coach Hinds and his slogan of ‘team unity,’ ” said Potts, now living in Pelham, New York and working in cybersecurity for IBM. “I remember people joking about how we were going to get ‘Team unity’ tattooed on our arms, and things like that. Coach had this slogan that we laughed about, but we embraced.”

“It was a tight team,” added Steve Potts, Cameron’s older brother and the No. 1 singles player, who works as a financial advisor in North Yarmouth. “It was a strong bond. There was chemistry. We had fun at practice, we pushed each other. We wanted to get better.”

The Panthers had fun, but they kept their eyes on their goals as well.

“That was the best team, mentally,” Haase said. “We all took it seriously.”

At the final at Deering Oaks, Cheverus flexed its muscles early, getting two quick wins when the No. 2 doubles team of Doug Robie and Jeremy Conley beat Rafe Dahlquist and Ryan Laverdiere 6-1, 6-1, and then when Pavlik beat Steve Potts 6-0, 6-0 at top singles.

Waterville got on the board at top doubles, however, when the tandem of the tall, powerful Brody and the smaller, methodical Maisel held firm and earned a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

“I think it was a little bit of fire and ice,” said Brody, who went 38-3 with Maisel over three years. “I’m 6-4, big personality, pretty big hitter, and Josh was calm, cerebral, always in the right place. The combination of how I pushed him and how he pushed me was pretty successful.”

To this day, Hinds hasn’t seen a better duo.

“I’ve never coached a team that had 41 matches together,” he said. “They really kind of dominated.”

The match was evened at 2 when Haase beat a state quarterfinalist in Josh Whipple, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 at No. 2 singles. He was only a freshman, but Haase was nevertheless ready for the stage.

“I went in there ready for anything,” said Haase, now a web advisor living in Waterville. “Each point, I was just in the zone and focused on what I wanted to do with the ball. I wasn’t thinking beyond that, because that would have been a distraction. … Had I been thinking all that stuff (about pressure), he would have destroyed me.”

Now attention shifted to third singles, where the favored Ardito had Cameron Potts down early after the first set. But Ardito was ailing in the second set — Hinds recalls it being a shoulder injury — and had to serve underhand, and Potts battled back to win 6-4 and force the decisive third set.

“All of a sudden, I’m up and I’m thinking ‘Hey, wait a second. I’ve got a shot here!’ ” Potts said. “So there was that mental shift I had. … (I thought) ‘Wait a second, I can take the second, and I’ve got momentum.’ ”

Hinds and his players began to believe the upset was coming.

“For him to win that second set with Mark dragging his shoulder,” Hinds said, “I’m thinking ‘An injury is going to make me win the state title.’ Even at that time, in my 20s, I was like ‘I don’t care. So what?’ ”

After the second set, Ardito got summoned for a talk with his coach, Dave Greely. Greely told him that the score was 2-2, and that the third set would win it all or lose it for Cheverus.

Ardito couldn’t believe it.

“When he found out it was 2-2, he was in total shock,” Hinds said. “Now he was playing a match he had to win.”

Ardito pushed his ailments out of the way, and went back to looking like the player that was expected to take the court that day. He went back to serving overhand. He got the early advantage on Potts and held off his challenger, icing a fourth straight title for Cheverus.

“He found the extra gear, whatever it was, and got back to where he was playing in the first set,” Cameron Potts said.

After the match, the disappointment was tangible. The Panthers knew they couldn’t have done more than they did, but they knew how close they had come as well.

“We were an eyelash away from beating, on paper, the greatest team that’s ever been associated with Maine tennis,” Hinds said. “It was tight as a drum going into that last couple of games.”

Members of the 1991 Waterville boys tennis team, including Steve Potts (red hat) check out the action during the regional final. Coach Tom Hinds is clapping at right. Submitted photo

“I felt probably worse for (Cameron),” Steve Potts said. “It was tough. It was the end of our high school tennis career.”

The sting hasn’t gone away, but the Panthers today can see the good that came from the experience.

“What an important life lesson,” Brody said. “There are a lot of wins and there are a lot of losses. You just try to have more wins.”

Cameron Potts made the match the subject of his essay on his successful application to Dartmouth.

“I didn’t win. But I had to learn from it,” he said. “I thought it was an interesting story to talk about. Not my greatest achievement, but when I actually failed, and why that’s important to reflect upon it.”

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