WINTHROP — Kelsey Ouellette had a good feeling about her Winthrop boys tennis team coming into this season. Her players were optimistic as well.

Confident as they were, however, few could have ended up predicting what was in store for the Ramblers this spring.

Winthrop is now 10-0, and in the Class C South semifinals after defeating No. 7 Carrabec 4-1 Thursday afternoon. The Ramblers are this season’s Mountain Valley Conference champions, and two years after reaching the Class C South final with a senior-led team and one year after being denied a chance to properly rebuild, they’re back homing in on the later rounds once again.

Winthrop got victories from No. 2 Noah Grube (8-0), No. 3 Nathan Hachey (6-4, 4-6, 6-3) and the doubles teams of Adam Hardy and Jake Smith (8-3) and Sam Fuller and Robby Feeney (6-0, 6-0). Carrabec (2-8) got its win at No. 1 singles, where Luke Carey edged Josh Deanda-Whaley in a hard-fought 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 decision.

“We just took it step by step (this season),” Grube said. “We’ve been playing a lot, we’ve really been working in practice. From the beginning of the season, I’ve just gotten so much better and improved a lot, and I think we improve every time we step onto the practice court and in matches as well.”

Overcoming challenges isn’t new for the Ramblers. In 2018 they didn’t have enough players for a team, and the next spring they made the run to the C South final before falling 5-0 to eventual champion Waynflete. COVID hit last year, but once again, Winthrop bounced back.

Ouellette, even with few known commodities on the team aside from Deanda-Whaley and Grube, had a hunch the Ramblers would once again rise to the challenge.

“This was the best-case scenario,” she said, “but I definitely think, back then, I don’t know if I thought we would go undefeated, but I definitely thought we would hopefully make it back to the MVC (championship) and be a contender in the playoffs. Honestly, this was kind of what I was envisioning.”

Her players were hopeful as well, but without No. 1 Jared McLaughlin and both doubles teams from 2019, there was more of a wait-and-see approach.

Maranacook-Winthrop’s Josh Deanda-Whaley hits a shot during a singles match againast Carrabec’s Luke Carey during a Class C South quarterfinal Thursday in Winthrop. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We knew that we would have to do some rebuilding,” Deanda-Whaley said. “At the beginning, I was a bit skeptical. But after our first match, I knew it was going to be a good season. They always talk to us about how we’re athletic and whatnot, but I think we’re really building up the skill.”

That match, a victory over Lisbon, introduced a pair of traits that have helped the Ramblers return to their position near the top of Class C. The first was the Maranacook addition; the Black Bears didn’t have enough for their own team and joined up with Winthrop, which gave the Ramblers their standard No. 3 in Wyatt Folsom and another coach in Matt Anderson, whom Ouellette called a co-coach.

“We have similar, but different skill sets … and we’re both on the same page about things,” Ouellette said. “It’s been great having a second set of knowledge there, and somebody who can hit around with the guys and give them some challenges has been awesome.

“And having Wyatt, it’s been great. His experience has been really, really helpful to give us a strong top three.”

The other element has been Winthrop’s depth. Feeney was in the mix for the third singles spot but has instead shown good chemistry with Fuller in the second doubles group, and when Folsom was unavailable for the match Thursday, Hachey stepped up into singles and won a two-hour decision against Lucas Vicneire.

“I really have to give it to all the team,” Deanda-Whaley said. “They really stepped up. It’s all them.”

With an undefeated season and second seeding in the tournament to their name, there’s some pressure that comes with that. The players know it, but also know they’re not the giants in the field.

“I think we have a little bit of pressure on us to get through at least the first two rounds,” Grube said. “But I think, realistically, the pressure’s still on Waynflete. They’ve been that top dog.”

Winthrop wouldn’t meet the 12-time defending champion Flyers until the South final. The Ramblers are hoping for the rematch.

“I don’t want to be too bold, but we want to see Waynflete,” Grube said. “We always want a run at them. … If we can get the chance and see what we can do, that would be great.”

Carrabec’s season came to a close, but with all but one player due back, coach Jeff Fowler hoped Thursday was a useful building experience.

“They’ve come a long way,” he said. “I’m proud of where we’ve come, and I hope that this lays a groundwork and foundation for next year. Hopefully we can get even more players.”

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