Tennis preview: MPA adds statewide doubles tournament alongside singles

Apr. 18—Danny Menard had never before played tennis when he entered Thornton Academy three years ago.

Menard is athletic and would go on to play cornerback for the school's state championship football team. He wanted to stay active in the spring, so join the tennis team and became junior varsity doubles partners with good buddy and fellow tennis newbie Cole Purvis.

A year later, Menard partnered with Brazilian exchange student Eduardo Shibata to win the SMAA doubles title (over Thornton's No. 2 doubles team). Last spring, Menard partnered with Japanese exchange student Kohei Sato and reached the SMAA finals before falling to Kennebunk's top pair, Jaxson Redmond and Matt Durcan.

Now seniors, Menard and Purvis are paired up again. And this time around, the conference doubles tournament — a quiet one-day affair in May — has a little more riding on it.

"It was great, but there's another level," Menard said. "The next step would be a state championship."

Indeed, for the first time since 1980, the Maine Principals' Association will include a statewide doubles tournament, along with the traditional singles and team tournaments. Sixteen teams will funnel in from five conferences across the state and compete on May 18 and 20 at Bates College in Lewiston.

The SMAA is one of three conferences that will send four boys' and four girls' teams to the state tournament. The others are the Penobscot Valley Conference and the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

The Western Maine Conference and Mountain Valley Conference each will send two boys' and two girls' teams. Unlike in the previous go-round, when Bert Cole of Cape Elizabeth and Penny Orr of South Portland won both singles and doubles crowns (with Brian Mavor and Kim Ochmanski, respectively), participants in the doubles tournament must have played a majority of their regular-season matches in doubles. Players who have been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on their team singles ladder are ineligible for the doubles tournament.

"It's going to be fun," said Cape Elizabeth Coach Andy Strout. "You're already catering to the top players (with the singles tournament). This is for the kids who are primarily doubles players. It's a great spectator opportunity, because doubles is a lot of fun to watch."

Strout, now in his 45th season as head coach, remembers sitting on the hood of his truck at Edward Little High in Auburn to watch Cole and Mavor prevail in 1980.

Next month, the singles tournament is also scheduled at Bates College, with the rounds of 52 and 32 being played May 17, dovetailing with doubles on May 18 for the round of 16 and quarterfinals.

Semifinals and finals for both tournaments are set for May 20.

"I was definitely excited for the idea when I heard about it (over the winter)," said Purvis. "More opportunities to compete, and you get to see what the competition is like in other areas of the state instead of just southern Maine."

Amara Quimby, who played No. 1 doubles for the Class B state champion Greely girls last spring, is likely to play singles this spring so won't be eligible for the doubles tournament. Even so, she's happy for the additional spotlight.

"It's awesome to give those players a chance to be recognized as well," she said. "It's great to have their moment to shine."

The impetus behind resurrecting the doubles tournament came from Waterville Coach Devin Lachapelle, who said doubles players in general tend to be overlooked. In 2021, the Purple Panthers won the Class B girls' title in large part by sweeping doubles, thus becoming the first school from Eastern or Northern Maine to win that crown in more than three decades.

One initial concern came from Northern Maine athletic directors who feared that designating a Saturday (May 11) for a conference doubles tournament would cost them a regular-season date often set aside for doubleheaders or matches with longer travel times. Add in the unpredictability of Maine weather, and the MPA tennis committee voted to extend the regular season and postseason end dates by one week.

Those conferences that traditionally hold doubles tournaments will continue to do so, but now with a little more at stake. Thornton assistant coach Chris Kohl (boys) and former McAuley coach Joe Kilmartin (girls) run the annual SMAA doubles tournament, an event prominent on Menard's calendar.

"Everybody wants to win, but now there's this bar you're trying to reach," said Menard, the two-time SMAA doubles finalist. "Getting to the semifinals means you (qualify for) the state tournament. And going to the state tournament for anybody would be cool, just to say you made it there."

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