After finishing as runner-up of the Maine Principals’ Association state singles tournament as a freshman and a sophomore, Nick Mathieu began this spring with a different outlook.

“I’m running out of chances,” he said. “There was definitely a lot more on the line.”

A stronger, fitter Mathieu broke through, overcoming a semifinal scare to set up a three-set victory for the state title. The Mt. Ararat High junior capped his run by defeating Thornton Academy freshman Dariy Vykhodtsev 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the final.

Mathieu is our choice as Maine Sunday Telegram Player of the Year in boys’ tennis.

“I played my best tennis in the last set of the finals,” Mathieu said. “That’s because I’m in better shape this year.”

Mathieu lost to Brendan McCarthy of Falmouth in the 2014 final and Isaac Salas of Waynflete a year ago, Mathieu’s first as the top seed. Finding himself shaky and tight in the 2015 final was a wakeup call, he said.

“I felt like I was going to win the tournament because I was the (No. 1) seed,” he said. “But it doesn’t work that way. You have to earn it. This year, I put in the work.”

Since coming up short against Salas, Mathieu hit the weight room and the road. He put in 10-mile runs a few times a week and worked as much on his fitness as he did on his strokes.

“Every match, I went out like I was playing in the finals,” he said. “Last year, I was focusing more on who was on the other side of the court. This year, I knew if I play my game and I’m confident, I think I can win no matter who I’m playing. It really comes down to my game.”

Which is why he didn’t panic after falling behind 3-0 in his semifinal against Cape Elizabeth senior Michael Mills, the fourth seed. Mathieu fought back to win the set on the way to a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory.

Aside from Mathieu and sophomore Peter Mao, the Eagles had almost no experience. Both went unbeaten in team play, and the rest of the team won at least one point in five of 12 regular-season matches to earn the fifth seed in Class A North.

Longtime Mt. Ararat Coach Don Foley said Mathieu deserves credit for helping nurture those new to the sport.

“He does a tremendous amount of work with the kids,” Foley said. “They look up to him, follow his instructions. He’s like another coach. Peter does, too. I can’t say enough about them.”

A high honors student, Mathieu has plenty of college options. He plans on majoring in business with a minor in biology. Medical school is under consideration.

“I have all my doors open,” he said.

Telegram All-State team

Thomas Brent, Gorham senior: The No. 12 seed in the state singles tournament, he knocked off No. 5 Thomas Jarmusz of Morse 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals before falling to Michael Mills of Cape Elizabeth. He went 13-0 in team play this spring to cap a 50-5 career. Brent plans to continue his career at Endicott College.

Nick Forester, Falmouth freshman: The second seed in the state singles tournament, he was forced to withdraw in the first set of his semifinal match after stepping on a stray ball and injuring his knee. He was 16-0 to that point in team and tournament play. Comfortable hitting forehand groundstrokes with either hand.

Matthew Jarmusz, Morse junior: Quarterfinalist in the state singles tournament as the 11th seed, knocking off No. 6 Cole Ouellette of Lewiston 7-6 (3), 6-1 before falling to No. 3 Dariy Vykhodtsev of Thornton Academy. Unbeaten in team play at No. 2 singles, dropping only nine games and no sets while winning 14 matches.

Alex Klemperer, Falmouth sophomore: The eighth seed in the singles tournament who reached the quarterfinals before falling to top seed and eventual champion Nick Mathieu, 6-2, 6-1. Unbeaten in team play until falling to Dariy Vykhodstsev in the Class A South final.

Peter Mao, Mt. Ararat sophomore: Quarterfinalist as the 10th seed in the state singles tournament who knocked off No. 7 Ryan Chasse of Fort Kent 7-5, 6-1 before falling to No. 2 seed Nick Forester. Unbeaten in 13 team matches at No. 2 singles for the Eagles (5-7), who were edged 3-2 in the Class A North quarterfinals by No. 4 Mt. Blue.

Nick Mathieu, Mt. Ararat junior: State singles champion after twice finishing as runner-up. Beat No. 3
Dariy Vykhodtsev 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the final, dropping a set for the first time all spring. Went 12-0 in the regular season, losing only nine games total. Unbeaten in three years in team play.

Michael Mills, Cape Elizabeth senior: Semifinalist in the state singles tournament as the fourth seed, losing 7-6 (5), 6-1 to No. 1 seed Nick Mathieu. Went 7-2 in the regular season, losing only to Nick Forester before leading the Capers (13-3) to the Class B final with a 4-0 record in the playoffs. Will continue his career at Gettysburg College.

Dariy Vykhodtsev, Thornton Academy freshman: Runner-up in the singles tournament, where he extended Nick Mathieu to three sets. Also led the Golden Trojans to the first Class A state championship in school history. Went 12-0 in team competition, never dropping a set and losing only 18 games total.

Coach of the Year
Pete Webster, York: Coming off a combined record of 1-23 the previous two seasons, the Wildcats turned things around with a squad that included five sophomores and only one senior in the starting lineup. York went 6-6 to earn the No. 5 seed in Class B South, and upset No. 4 Gardiner and No. 1 Lincoln Academy before falling 3-2 to three-time defending state champ Cape Elizabeth. “We have risen from the ashes,” said Webster. “We definitely have something to build on with this young team. A bunch of them were soccer players, so they were good athletes with good hand-eye coordination and good foot skills.”