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Tennis: Falmouth pairs win doubles state titles over teammates

May 21—Walking onto the tennis courts Tuesday morning felt an awful lot like a regular practice for the four girls and four boys from Falmouth High.

Sure, the venue was different: The Berle Tennis Courts on the campus of Waynflete in Portland.

And at 9 a.m. they normally would be in a classroom. Instead, their teammates and coaches looked on, as did several Falmouth parents.

Still, amid the chirping birds and occasional prop noise from the nearby Jetport, something was at stake. For the first time since 1980, the Maine Principals' Association held a doubles state tournament and the four surviving pairs from a long day of play Monday at Bates College in Lewiston gathered Tuesday to determine the champions.

"Had it been another team from another school, playing would have felt a lot more like we were in a state tournament" said senior Mary McPheeters. "But since it was our teammates, it's something we do every day. It was hard to distinguish the fact that it was for a state tournament."

As things turned out, Falmouth's No. 1 teams beat Falmouth's No. 2 teams for the titles.

Senior Gracyn Mick and junior Gwen Long beat senior teammates McPheeters and Jenna Nunley 6-1, 6-3 in a little over an hour. It took nearly two hours for senior Charlie Wolak and sophomore Eli Sidhu to hold off senior teammates Raymond Li and Karl Chamberlain 7-5, 6-4.

The doubles fields started with 16 teams each from five different conferences. Early-round matches were played Saturday in Augusta and Monday in Lewiston, mainly at the Wallach Tennis Center on the Bates College campus, site of Monday's singles semis and finals.

"I'm really grateful to have it," Wolak said. "Because with our team, we don't always have the most competitive matches. So it was fun to have a tournament where it was really competitive. You could tell teams were nervous."

Wolak and Sidhu won three matches Monday to reach the finals, beating teams from Old Town, Bangor and Greely of Cumberland. Li and Chamberlain, meanwhile, overcame challengers from York, Camden Hills and Thornton Academy of Saco.

On Tuesday, the boys treated each other as adversaries.

"As soon as we are on the court, they're our opponents," Wolak told Sidhu. "They're not our teammates anymore."

After one missed volley, Li struck a ball in anger. Wolak and Sidhu rallied from down 5-4 to win the last three games of the opening set, after which Li and Chamberlain took much longer on the changeover than their allotted two minutes, in part because Li re-wrapped his grip.

"Things started moving way too quickly," Chamberlain said. "They had a lot of momentum and they were feeling confident."

Wolak and Sidhu raced to a 5-1 lead in the second set, squandered two match points, and Li and Chamberlain stormed back to make it 5-4 before Sidhu served out the match.

"I was just going for too much, trying to end on a massive slam," Sidhu said of the two netted returns that could have ended matters earlier. "From there it just spiraled down but we managed to pull it out."

The girls' match appeared more cordial, spiced with laughter and banter, but its aftermath was not without tears. Ten days earlier, McPheeters and Nunley had split sets with Mick and Long (5-7, 6-3) and won a 10-7 tiebreaker to win the SMAA doubles title.

"It's always so close when we play," Mick said. "Obviously it's exciting to have both your doubles teams in the state finals, for both boys and girls. It's just unfortunate that one of us had to win and one of us had to lose."

A third Falmouth pair, junior Carley Iannetta and senior Adele Gamage, advanced to Monday's semifinal round before being eliminated by Mick and Long, who already had dispatched teams from Maranacook and Camden Hills. McPheeters and Nunley beat teams from Fort Kent, Medomak Valley and Waynflete en route to the finals.

"We're all friends," Long said. "I feel like we all make either other better and challenge each other every day, which definitely helps our team a lot."

Falmouth's head coaches, Bob McCully for boys and Larry Nichols for girls, took on the role of impartial observers. During changeovers, non-playing teammates provided counsel and advice to the players.

"It's a two-edged sword," Nichols said. "They deserved to be here. I've seen it every day. But the realization that one of them has to lose, and they're so close, was the bitter part. If either team had won, I wouldn't have been surprised. They play that well."

Team tournaments begin May 31. Falmouth's boys are defending Class A state champions. Falmouth's girls, who put together a 187-match winning streak between 2008 and 2019, were Class A runners-up last spring to Brunswick.

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