READFIELD — When asked about the outlook for the Maranacook girls tennis team this season, junior Mary Hatt broke into a smile.

And why not? The Black Bears were excellent last year, going a perfect 11-0 in the regular season. But with a core group of returning players — and one key new piece — they could be a tough team to beat this year as well.

“I think we’re really a strong team, still,” said Hatt, the team’s No. 3 singles player. “We definitely want to try to do (go undefeated) again.”

The same could be said of Maranacook’s opponent in Friday’s season opener. The Black Bears earned a 3-2 victory over Erskine Academy, another team coming off of a strong 2021 season and another team that feels 2022 could also be big, if not bigger.

“Our expectations are a little higher,” said Erskine coach Alex Stern, whose team went 8-2 in the regular season and made the B North quarterfinals. “Last season was huge for them. I have six returning players, and they all played last year, they all saw competition last year. They knew what to expect rolling into this year.”

Maranacook got victories Friday from Hatt at third singles (7-5, 6-2) over Josette Gilman, who was playing her first match in competition, first doubles from Ella Stevens and Emily Lucas (7-6 (8), 6-4) over Olivia Bourque and Grace Hodgkin, and second doubles from Ruth Brosey and Julia Riley (6-4, 6-0) over Hayden Hoague and Grace Kelso.


Erskine won the last two matches played when Julia Barber beat Claire Dwyer 6-2, 7-6 (2) at first singles and Lily Bray beat Kusha Kane at second singles 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 10-8.

Maranacook, which made the C South semifinals before being edged by Waynflete, returns its No. 2 in Kane, and Stevens and Riley are back after playing doubles. Lucas, the No. 3 singles player last year, and Hatt, who played first doubles, are back and have swapped positions.

“I’ve got six girls who want to play doubles who are pretty equal, so it’s going to be a battle to see who matches up with whom,” coach Lou Gingras said. “(Last year) was a definite plus, they all got great experience and we played pretty much all summer. I had five, six, seven girls five nights a week playing. They’re all hungry, they know they have to fight for whatever they get.”

Many of the players can return to their spots because the No. 1 singles spot, left vacant when Paige Rice graduated, has been filled by freshman Dwyer, whose older sister Madeline starred for the Black Bears and who brings plenty of court experience to the team.

Maranacook’s Ella Stevens returns the ball against Erskine during a first doubles girls tennis match Friday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We’re just trying to take it one match at a time, but we feel pretty good about how our team is going to be this year,” Dwyer said. “I was pretty confident in myself coming into the season too, so I was looking forward to the singles spot. … (Madeline) is one of my big tennis role models. I’m just trying to get close to her and do what I can for the team.”

Hatt’s victory came in her first test as a singles player. She battled with Gilman in the first set, but pulled away in the second.


“It’s definitely different. In doubles you have a partner, and it’s a team effort,” Hatt said. “And this is just you, so there’s more pressure on just you. But it’s very fun.”

Erskine brings back its top two singles from last year in Barber and Bray, and also have Bourque and Hodgkin back as starters. Stern said the continuity has made it so his team can pick up where it left off, rather than start over.

“We had a great year last year, but all of our practices were spent drilling,” Stern said. “It was drilling every day, very little play. This year during our practices, we’re actually working more on strategy because I don’t have to spend as much time drilling now. It’s nice to come in here against a really good Maranacook team and see where we are.”

Erskine’s Grace Kelso gets ready to returns the ball against Maranacook in a second doubles girls tennis match Friday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Where they were was close enough to the Black Bears for three matches to need tiebreakers. Bray prevailed in a marathon match at second singles, while Barber rallied from 5-2 down in the second set against Dwyer to close out the talented youngster and win in straight sets.

Barber was new to the No. 1 role last year, but she said that experience is only going to help her this spring.

“It was very scary. … The nerves were a lot worse that season,” she said. “This year, I feel a lot more prepared to help our team win. … It pushes me on to take on the highest player on the other team, and it feels good when I can win.”

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