June 27, 2010

Girls' MVP: An exchange student stepped right in to make a mark

Elena Mandzhukova arrived in Brunswick from Portugal and took girls' tennis by storm.

When Kasia Jania, the Scarborough High sophomore and 2009 state singles finalist, decided against playing for her school this spring, it left a void in Maine schoolgirl tennis.

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Elena Mandzhukova, who will attend Kents Hill in the fall, had given up tennis as a 15-year-old in Europe before rediscovering her love for the sport while at Brunswick.

2010 Telegram File

Telegram All-State Girls' Tennis

Emilie Cloutier, Lewiston senior

Led Blue Devils to their fifth consecutive Class A state title and 11th overall. Reached the semifinals of the singles tournament as the fourth seed, never dropping a set until losing to top seed Analise Kump of Falmouth.

Annie Criscione, Falmouth sophomore

Helped lead Falmouth to a perfect season and third straight Class B state title. As the third seed in the singles tournament, she reached the semifinals for the second straight year, only to be eliminated by the eventual champion.

Natalie Egbert, Gorham junior

A victory at No. 1 singles in the Western Class A final clinched Gorham's first trip to the state championships in school history. Seeded sixth in the singles tournament, she rallied to a three-set victory to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Annie Criscione.

Thu-Trang Ho, North Yarmouth Academy senior

A four-year singles player at NYA who led her team to the Class C state title all four years. Seeded fifth in the singles tournament, she beat No. 12 Emma Blakeley of Camden Hills in three sets to reach the quarterfinals.

Analise Kump, Falmouth sophomore

Moved up to No. 1 singles for the three-time Class B state champions and capped a perfect season with a three-set victory in the state finals. Top-seeded in the singles tournament after reaching the quarterfinals a year ago, she fell 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) to Elena Mandzhukova.

Elena Mandzhukova, Brunswick junior

An exchange student from Portugal who grew up in Bulgaria, she led the Dragons to the Eastern Class A final. She didn't drop a set all season, including five matches in the state singles tournament, culminating in a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory against Analise Kump.

Jenna Selander, Caribou junior

Led the Vikings to the Eastern Class B title and extended Analise Kump to three sets in the state final, the only time all season Falmouth lost a set. Seeded eighth in the singles tournament, she dropped a 6-4, 6-4 decision to No. 1 Analise Kump in the quarterfinals.

Libby Voccola, Falmouth freshman

Unbeaten at No. 3 singles for the Class B state champion. Unseeded in the singles tournament, she knocked off No. 10 Addie Devine of McAuley and No. 7 Carissa English of Camden Hills before falling to Elena Mandzhukova in the quarterfinals.

Coach of the Year: Lorena Coffin, North Yarmouth Academy

Coffin has been coaching at NYA for four years, and all four years the Panthers ended the season as Class C state champions. North Yarmouth Academy defeated Dexter 4-1 in the title match to finish the season 14-1, the only blemish a 5-0 loss to powerful Falmouth, the three-time Class B state champion.

Falmouth, certainly, had plenty of talent. Sophomores Analise Kump and Annie Criscione, and freshman Libby Voccola reached the singles quarterfinals before leading their team to a third straight Class B state title.

But it was someone from away who stepped in.

Elena Mandzhukova, born in Bulgaria and living in Portugal, came to Brunswick High as an exchange student and rekindled her passion for a sport she nearly abandoned.

Mandzhukova dispatched Voccola, Criscione and Kump in the quarters, semis and finals to win the state singles tournament. For doing so, she is our Maine Sunday Telegram MVP for girls' tennis.

"It was more than I expected," Mandzhukova said before returning to Europe this month. "I think this win got me back in tennis and gave me more motivation."

Growing up in Bulgaria as the daughter of pro athletes -- her mother was a long jumper and her father threw the javelin -- Mandzhukova spent plenty of time in sports clubs. One had a wall for tennis. A coach spotted her hitting balls against it.

"I was 7 or 8 when I started," she said.

A club in Portugal hired her father, but before moving the family, he and his wife gave this new country a year-long tryout. Elena stayed in Bulgaria with her grandparents and her new sport, tennis. She joined her parents a year later at age 9.

In Portugal, Mandzhukova continued to play and rose in national rankings. At 13, she ventured to California to attend the Weil Tennis Academy.

Her academics were advanced enough that she skipped a year, jumping from sixth to eighth grade. Upon returning to Portugal after 10 months, she put off school and played internationally.

"That was my goal," she said, "being a pro tennis player."

But somewhere along the way, the game lost its pizazz. When tennis stopped being fun, Mandzhukova stopped playing. She was 15.

"I just didn't believe in myself," she said. "I thought I'd do volleyball or basketball at school."

Two years later, she found herself back in the U.S. as an exchange student in coastal Maine. At first she stayed with a welcoming family, headed by Rob Manter, owner and director of Maine Pines Racquet & Fitness in Brunswick as well as the new high school girls' tennis coach. After a few weeks, she settled with the Martinez family, which had a daughter on the verge of high school graduation and two sons in college.

"She's a great kid," said Cathy Kelley, Brunswick High's assistant coach and an English teacher at the school. "Quiet and unassuming and gracious with her opponents. She modeled hard work and integrity. We were lucky to have her."

A victory over Kump in a preseason scrimmage immediately branded Mandzhukova as the player to beat. No one ever did beat her; she won every set she played, including rallying from a 4-1 deficit in the second-set tiebreaker of a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory over Kump for the singles title.

"I think everybody lifted their game and played stronger with her leadership," Kelley said after Brunswick concluded its season with a 3-2 loss in the Eastern Class A final to Lewiston, which went on to win its fifth straight state title. "It was like running a race with a premier runner next to you."

Mandzhukova liked Maine well enough to want to return for her senior year, to Kents Hill, a boarding school. She hopes to play college tennis in the United States.

"I think her chances of getting into a Division I school and playing tennis are good," Kelley said. "I just can't say enough good things about her." 

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



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