ELLSWORTH — In the final week of a season full of achievements, the Ellsworth girls’ tennis team added one more to the list.
Having already recorded double-digit wins, three separate winning streaks of three-plus matches and a runner-up finish in the Penobscot Valley Conference, Ellsworth entered the Class B North tournament seeking its first playoff win and semifinal berth in a number of years. It got both, and although the year came to an end three days later, the Eagles can look back on 2019 with their heads held high.
The Ellsworth girls’ team’s best season in five years came to an end Saturday with a 4-1 home loss to Erskine Academy. The defeat came three days after the second-ranked Eagles topped Washington Academy to clinch their berth in the regional semis.
“It feels like now is about time for the year to be wrapping up, but to be able to make it here to this match was the pinnacle of our year,” Ellsworth senior Miriam Nelson said after Saturday’s match against Erskine. “We had a great season, and it was great that we could get this far as a team.”
The Eagles earned a big win Wednesday in the Class B North quarterfinals when it defeated No. 7 Washington Academy (7-7) 4-1 at Ellsworth High School. The win was Ellsworth’s first in the playoffs in four years.
Ellsworth swept the visiting Raiders in the three singles matches with wins from Nelson (6-1, 6-4 in No. 1 play), Brianna Abbott (7-6, 6-4 in No. 2 play) and Faith Braley (7-6, 6-0 in No. 3 play). Jocelyn Boudreau and Bailey Clarke won 6-0, 6-0 for the Eagles in No. 2 doubles play.
On Saturday, Ellsworth hosted third-ranked Erskine Academy in the semifinals. With Ellsworth playing in the Penobscot Valley Conference and Erskine playing in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, the match brought together two teams that don’t see one another in regular season play.
“We were both the No. 2 teams in our leagues,” Ellsworth head coach Brian Higgins said. “In fact, we probably would have been in second place in each other’s leagues. They’re really good.”
Erskine (12-2) showed as much Saturday with wins over Ellsworth in No. 1 singles play, No. 2 singles play and both doubles matches. Ellsworth’s win came from Braley, who came from a 6-4 loss to Erskine’s Paige Leary in the first set of the No. 3 singles match to earn a 6-1 win in the second set and a 6-0 win in the third.
Nelson’s No. 1 singles match against Ellie Hodgkin was a showdown between two players who competed in last month’s state singles tournament. For Nelson, who was a member of Ellsworth’s state championship-winning girls’ cross-country team and helped lead the swim team to its best-ever showing in February’s state meet, a 6-1, 6-1 loss Saturday to the state’s No. 8 player marked the end of a remarkable senior year.
“You want to go up against people that help you improve,” Nelson said of her match against Hodgkin. “She’s just an amazing tennis player, and it was a fun match to play.”
Ellsworth’s 11-3 finish and semifinal appearance marked the team’s best performance since it posted the same marks in 2014. Only once this decade, in the team’s run to the 2013 Northern Maine title match, have the Eagles gone further in the playoffs.
Ellsworth will have a bit of rebuilding work to do next year with Nelson, Braley, Audrey Goodwin-Whitmore, Grace High and Kaitlin McCullough set to graduate. Yet with four of the seven who competed in Saturday’s playoff match returning in 2020, the team will be back for another run.
“It’ll be a young team the next couple years, but a lot of them will be back with experience,” Nelson said. “It will be great for these girls to learn from this as well.”