PORTLAND – Sam Cleaves and Nate Niles, seniors at Waynflete, have a problem.

Despite clear evidence their tennis games have improved — not surprising, considering their college futures in soccer (Cleaves at Swarthmore) and Nordic skiing (Niles at Bates or Bowdoin) — they keep dropping lower on the team ladder.

“It’s kind of funny,” Cleaves said after a recent practice at the Fore River courts. “As we get better, we move down.”

Two years ago they played first doubles on a team that won the Class C state title. Last year, one played first doubles and the other played second doubles. Again, the Flyers won the state title.

This year, with stellar freshman Patrick Ordway joining senior Devin Van Dyke and junior Brandon Thompson in a singles lineup more potent than at any school — of any size — in the state, Cleaves and Niles are likely to find themselves at second doubles.

“It doesn’t bother us,” Niles said. “They’re playing year-round. We put away the rackets six months a year.”

“We respect that this is what they do,” Cleaves said. “We’re just happy to see them do well.”

Waynflete did well enough last year, going 15-0 in a spring that included regular-season victories against Class B state champion Yarmouth and Class B regional finalist Falmouth, as well as a tough title match (3-2) against a scrappy Madawaska squad.

Graduation affected the Flyers’ starting lineup not a bit. Instead, a 14-year-old who stands 6-foot-4 and sports a pedigree that includes a three-time girls’ state singles champion for a sister joined the team.

“He’s a really good player,” Thompson said of Patrick Ordway, whose brother Eric, a junior, teamed with Cleaves for the decisive three-set victory at first doubles in the championship victory over Madawaska. His older sister, Christine Ordway, the 2006, 2007 and 2009 state singles champ, now plays for Cornell.

“He’s really tall, he’s got a really good serve and he’s got a lot of power,” said Thompson, who reached the singles semifinals as a freshman and the final last spring.

Practices “are a lot funner. The hitting is a lot better.”

Of the top eight seeds from last spring’s state singles tournament, only Thompson, who lost to Mike Hill of Mt. Ararat in the final, and Van Dyke (a quarterfinalist) are back.

Patrick Ordway will open the season at No. 2 singles for Waynflete, which may become the first school with the top three seeds in singles.

Don Atkinson, the longtime tournament director, can remember only one team to have three players reach the singles semifinals.

The South Portland boys of 1975 featured Lee Ramsdell, Doug Gagne and Tony Tirabassi, with Gagne, who played No. 2 for South Portland, upsetting Ramsdell to win the title.

“That would be something,” Thompson said of such a possibility. “We haven’t really talked about that. We don’t want to underestimate our opponents.”

Thompson, who reached the semifinals of the highly competitive Betty Blakeman tournament last summer in Yarmouth, missed a few months over the winter with a shoulder injury. When practice opened this spring, he still wasn’t serving, but Waynflete Coach Jeff Madore is confident Thompson will heal in time for the start of the season.

Ordway climbed as high as sixth last summer in the USTA New England rankings for players 14 and younger. He hits the ball hard but his sister remains the family champ.

“I’m getting closer but she’s still got it on me,” Patrick said of Christine. “I can probably serve it harder than she can, but she’s still more consistent.”

Finding quality opposition for his big three won’t be easy for Madore. Matches against Class B stalwarts Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth will help. Madore also brings in Waynflete grads or dads with strong games to offer his players new challenges in practice.

“So you’re not beating up on each other all the time,” he said. “You don’t want to create too much internal pressure.”

Such are the difficulties of fielding a prohibitive favorite. This spring, internal pressure may be the only kind facing Waynflete all season.

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]