On a tennis court, Grace Campanella is equal parts composure and tenacity.

The only time she became distracted this spring was during a regional qualifying match for the MPA singles state tournament, because her opponent brought along two large poodle mixes to the match.

“They were great,” said Campanella, a sophomore at Kennebunk High who managed to win 6-0, 6-0. The girl she was playing “was really sweet. We stayed together after the match and played with the dogs.”

Campanella went on to win the singles championship without dropping a set. She was similarly unbeaten in team competition for the Kennebunk/Wells co-op squad, which improved to 9-4 after going 4-8 the previous spring.

She is our choice as Maine Sunday Telegram Player of the Year for girls’ tennis.

“She’s probably the most tenacious person I’ve ever met,” said second-year Kennebunk/Wells Coach Jacqui Holmes, who played at Bates College. “She comes off the court, and no matter who she’s playing, she picks up on what they do well and tries to avoid that.”

What’s more, Holmes said, Campanella notices if an aspect of her opponent’s game is better than her own. If so, she works hard to improve that skill and make it a strength.

Campanella opened the season penciled in at No. 1 on the team ladder because of a challenge-match victory over her older sister, Rosemary, a senior at Wells High. Because Grace injured her back in an out-of-state USTA tournament before the first match, however, the sisters had to play again weeks later when Grace recovered, and this time Rosemary won.

The Campanellas live in Wells, where Grace attended school until eighth grade, “but I really didn’t like it there,” she said. “My mom brought up the option of going with her to Kennebunk and I took her up on it. She’s a behavior teacher at the high school.”

When Holmes took over the program last spring, she was told she’d be inheriting two of the best players in Maine. She wasn’t sure how the sisters would blend with their less-skilled teammates.

“They were fantastic,” Holmes said. “Rose was definitely a leader and Grace is much more reserved, much quieter, but just phenomenal with the other girls on the team.”

In a match, Grace maintains a sense of equilibrium impressive for a 16-year-old.

“You would never be able to tell if she was winning or losing,” Holmes said. “She’s so composed on the tennis court.”

At practice, among teammates, “she’s giggly and she has fun,” Holmes said. “You can tell she just loves the game and loves to be on the court and on the team.”

As a freshman, Grace earned the fifth seed in the singles tournament and dispatched the 12th and fourth seeds before running into eventual champ and top seed Lana Mavor of Yarmouth in the semifinals. This year, Grace won four matches by a combined score of 48-3 to set up the championship match with Rosemary, who was making her third appearance in the final. Grace prevailed 6-2, 6-4 in a match devoid of the usual partisan cheering and celebration.

“Grace played phenomenal tennis,” Holmes said. “But because it was somber, no one knew how to react.”

Rosemary plans to continue her career at Merrimack College. Grace said she plans to visit a few campuses this summer. Her career goal is to be a veterinarian.

Outside of tennis, she plays with her miniature poodles, Penny and Dexter, and reads a lot of science fiction. She recommends the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. No other sport captures her fancy.

Wondering whether the high-stakes match with her sister had any effect on their relationship?

“We came off it just fine,” Grace said. “She’s been my No. 1 hitting partner, always willing to go out on the court, and she’s always supported me in everything I’ve done. I’m really grateful for that.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

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