SKOWHEGAN — It’s a team that barely was just a half-decade ago. Now, it’s one nobody wants to play.

Entering 2021, it had been five years since the Skowhegan boys tennis team had even won a match. The River Hawks went winless from 2017-19 before the pandemic canceled the 2020 season. The program almost folded during that stretch when it was reduced to five players.

Midway through 2023, though, a stunning reversal — one that’s been building for three seasons now — has Skowhegan atop Class A North. At 7-0 and with no seniors, the River Hawks are a team that’s already contending this season and is built to keep doing so down the road.

“It’s been fun (to be that group) that’s kind of turned things around,” said Skowhegan junior Asa Stroman. “Back a couple years ago, (former head coach Paul) Daigle would tell us how it had been almost 30 years since Skowhegan had had a winning record, so this success has been nice.”

Leading the way for Skowhegan is a strong singles player in Drake Turcotte, who was the River Hawks’ No. 2 last year. The sophomore, whom Daigle called the best freshman in program history, is now Skowhegan’s No. 1 after the departure of state singles quarterfinalist Unai Moldonado.

“Hearing something like that, it just means everything to me,” Turcotte said. “I’m always training every day to get better — constantly on the grind, eating healthy and working on my game. I owe a lot of it to my brother (Dawson) because he was the anchor before I came and helped train me.”


With Turcotte now at No. 1, another exchange student, junior Mattia Rota of Italy, has moved into his old spot as Skowhegan’s No. 2. Together, the two have given the River Hawks a one-two punch at the top of the lineup sheet that can hold its own against just about anyone.

Skowhegan is every bit as strong as you go down the lineup. No. 3 singles player Dom Clifford is undefeated this season, as is the No. 1 doubles duo of Stroman and Cam Herrick. The River Hawks’ No. 2 doubles team, Noah McConnell and Erik Cunliffe, is 5-2.

“I would definitely say that depth is one of our strengths,” Stroman said. “One through five, we know anybody can go out and get us a win. First, second, second doubles or anywhere else, they’re all really, really strong. There’s nowhere where you say it’s a weak spot in our lineup.”

Although Skowhegan’s program spent years in the doldrums entering the new decade, the team’s current players have experienced none of those struggles. After 2020 was wiped out, the River Hawks went 7-6 in 2021 and 9-4 in 2022 before securing their third straight winning season with a victory over Mt. Ararat on Monday.

Skowhegan No. 2 singles player Mattia Rota hits a forehand shot during practice Tuesday at Memorial Park in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

It’s been a three-year span in which Skowhegan has achieved milestone after milestone. Two years ago, the River Hawks achieved their first winning season since 1994. Although the River Hawks failed to progress past the quarterfinals again last year, optimism abounded after eclipsing their 2021 win total.

This year, that optimism has been realized in a season in which Skowhegan again looks set to surpass the exploits of the past two. A breakthrough moment, Herrick said, came last Monday as the River Hawks took down a Camden Hills juggernaut they hadn’t beaten since the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency.


“The day after we beat Camden, Coach came in and was really excited, and he said, ‘Guys, the last time Skowhegan beat Camden was 1993,’” Herrick said. “That was big for us. We’ve been working hard to get better every year, and we’ve been really seeing it pay off.”

“Coach,” first-year head coach Dan Riley, never played or coached high school tennis. He does, though, have a strong knowledge of the game, and he’s well-known around the school as a longtime substance abuse and guidance counselor. So far, the results speak for themselves.

“You’re talking to a guy who doesn’t have a lot of experience, but I have a phys-ed degree and have coached a lot of youth sports, and I’d say I have a good instinct for it,” Riley said. “I look at working on team chemistry and things such as footwork and technique, and the kids have really bought into it. They’re great kids.”

It’s a formula that’s a winning one for a Skowhegan team that’s now starting to see a target on its back after dispatching fellow contenders Camden Hills, Edward Little and Mt. Ararat. Monday’s 5-0 win over the latter avenged a season-ending loss to the Eagles in last year’s Class A North quarterfinals.

Now, the goals will get bigger for the River Hawks. There’s a hunger to make it further after coming up short in the quarterfinals the past two years, and a deeper run this June would only help Skowhegan build for a future that will include many of the same faces.

“When we lost last year, we had to remind ourselves that we were still a young team with mostly sophomores,” Stroman said. “We know we can keep pushing and keep building as juniors and seniors, and that’s something that motivates us to work and get better.”

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