AUGUSTA — There were no doubles matches when the Gardiner and Cony boys tennis teams met Wednesday. There were two singles matches. There were eight players on hand — in total.

The numbers weren’t there at the A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center, and they’re not going to be this year. The Rams have six players, and the Tigers have three (one was absent Wednesday). Now back on the court for the first time in two years, the goal for Gardiner and Cony this season isn’t championships.

The objectives are more simple: Learn the game, get better, and set the stage for success once the numbers get their needed boost.

“A couple of them have said, ‘I don’t care (about results), I just want to play.’ They have an opportunity here,” Cony coach Scott Munroe said. “I’m hoping that they can reach out into the lower grades to get more kids out. There are kids in that building that should be out right now, there are kids in the middle school that need to know that tennis is a thing that they can play. It’s a lifetime sport, there’s no judging out here.”

Cony won 4-0. There were two matches played, with Andrew Rancourt beating Izaak Richards 8-1 at first singles, and Jack Rodrigue beating Shawn Jimenez 8-0 at second singles. Cony’s other four players — Eric McDonnell, Camden Sirois, Tyler Foster and Martin Ferrusca — played a doubles exhibition with no other available opponents.

Neither team has the numbers to make a run at team competitions, and neither has much, if any, varsity experience. So in 2021, progress is the key term.

“(We’re hoping) just for all our new players to gain appreciation for the sport,” said Rancourt, a junior who was on the team as a freshman. “I think this is a good year for us to really improve our game, and I’m hoping we win the most matches, but overall we just improve as a team, and we have some good kids ready for next year, too.”

Though not built to compete now, the Rams are at a decent starting point. Rancourt has been playing throughout the year, allowing him to climb to the top spot, and Ferrusca, a freshman, has been getting lessons at A-Copi and will be a factor in competition as soon as this season.

In addition to the talent, Munroe said there’s a strong system of leadership in place. He credited the contributions of Rodrigue, who played second doubles for Cony two seasons ago, and McDonnell, the other senior on the team.

“(We work on) technique, being able to have good, conventional tennis skills, the forehand and the backhand,” Munroe said. “What’s a serve, approach shot, volley, how does that work? … (But) the other part is preparation. Getting to the ball, that’s footwork.”

The basics are the big focus for Gardiner coach Chad Waterhouse as well. The players he had yesterday are newcomers to the game, while his third, normal No. 1 player Nick Sears, played last year.

“I have a freshman and a sophomore, so moving forward is going to be really cool,” Waterhouse said. “I’m looking two or three years down the line, and even in the last two weeks that these guys have just learned how to play tennis has been crucial for them. And they’ve learned a lot. They didn’t even know the rules two weeks ago.”

Cony second singles player Jack Rodrigure hits a shot against Gardiner during a match against Cony on Wednesday at A-Copi Tennis Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Waterhouse said he’s been building the skills of his players, particularly Richards and Jimenez, from the ground up.

“Where they’re brand new, it’s easy for me to walk through from the start,” he said. “When there’s two of them that can do that together, they’re more praising each other and lifting each other up, than feeling awkward because they’re behind the rest of the team.”

Two novices on a three-person team, however, means an accelerated learning curve.

“It’s tough, because we can’t really win and we’re both very new,” Richards said. “We’re ranked higher on our team than we would normally. Normally, we’d probably be the bottom two. Now, we’re (playing) the best players on the other teams. … I definitely improve a lot; I’m just not too optimistic about winning.”

Waterhouse said that has been a point of emphasis. Even if the match scores don’t reflect it, that improvement is taking place.

“I’m like ‘Listen, you guys shouldn’t be thinking or worrying about that,'” he said. “Focus on yourselves, focus on the techniques you’re practicing and work on that. Whether you guys really do well or whether you get your butts whupped, it doesn’t matter. You’re out there, have fun, do what you need to do and learn from it.”

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