Grace Campanella enters the Maine Principals’ Association singles tennis qualifier at Deering High School today as the No. 1 seed in her region, the defending state champion and sporting a 7-0 individual record this season.

But the first singles player for the Kennebunk/Wells girls’ tennis team doesn’t think about the personal accolades when she steps onto the court. Instead, she admits she still gets nervous, and there are several dozen other people on her mind.

Grace Campanella finishes a backhand shot against her opponent, Kira Winters of Marshwood, during the Kennebunk/Wells 4-1 victory on Thursday. Campanella is 7-0 this season, and the junior heads into this weekend’s state qualifiers as her region’s No. 1 seed. (ANTHONY LOMBARDI)

“I just don’t want to let the team down,” said Campanella after a straight-set win against Marshwood’s Kira Winter on Thursday to help Kennebunk/Wells improve to 7-0. “We’re looking really good this year. Everyone gets along well. Everyone is playing well – the dynamic is just really good – everyone is really showing up and giving it their all.” 

Kennebunk/Wells coach Jacqui Holmes jokes that she doesn’t need to provide much coaching to Campanella in between her sets. That works well since the junior prefers to spend most of her breaks asking for updates on her teammates’ matches.  

She’s stepped up as a leader, Holmes said, and she’s shown more aggression on the court, too. On Thursday, Campanella worked with surgical precision to defeat her opponent 6-1, 6-0. Whether it was a powerful backhand or a well-placed forehand, she controlled the match from start to finish. One particular point, where Campanella followed-up her perfectly-placed serve to the outside corner with a dropshot that landed in the opposite service box out of Winters’ reach, showed the maturity of her game.

With the score 5-1 in the first set, Campanella overstruck a ball that landed just out-of-bounds. She turned her back to the net in displeasure and reprimanded herself at an audible level.  

“She uses every opportunity to get better, and when she does something that she knows she can do better, she’s frustrated with herself,” Holmes said. “That’s why she’s as successful as she is.”

Campanella’s success has translated to positive results for the entire Kennebunk/Wells girls’ tennis program. The team went 4-8 her freshman season, which was also Holmes’ first year as coach. As a sophomore, Kennebunk/Wells posted a 9-4 mark. They’ve yet to taste defeat this season against South Portland (5-0), Massabesic (5-0), Bonny Eagle (5-0), Westbrook (3-0, rain-shortened) Biddeford (5-0), Sanford (5-0) and Marshwood (4-1).

Campanella, who serves as a co-captain of the squad along with Hannah Marquis, works with a private coach in addition to the high school team’s schedule. Holmes thinks Campanella’s active presence during practice has accelerated her teammates’ skill and technique.

The success of Campanella and her older sister, Rosemary, who now plays collegiately at Merrimack, may have also had an inadvertent effect on the program’s increasing popularity. About 45 students attended tryouts this year, a stark difference from the 12 players who showed up just three years ago.

Holmes didn’t want to turn anyone away, she said, so a club team was formed in addition to the varsity and junior varsity teams.

“Coaching these girls is my favorite part of the day,” Holmes said. “They have so much energy, they are so eager to learn and improve and they seem to love being on the team with each other. After practice, and even after matches, they stick around to play more tennis. Watching them get hooked on the sport and have fun competing brings me so much joy.”

Campanella isn’t the only member of the Kennebunk/Wells team who is playing at this year’s singles qualifier, either. Marquis and Miranda Durcan are scheduled to compete as unseeded challengers. It’s both girls first tournament experience, and their coach hopes they use the opportunity to mature as players. The format is as straightforward as it gets: Win your matches, and you’re on to State.

Campanella said she’s “feeling pretty good” as she looks to defend her title, one that she earned last year with a win over her sister in the final match. She just has to make sure her nerves don’t get to her. “The usual.”

One box left unchecked  – an invite to play tennis in college – would mean the world to her to fill. She’s talked to some college coaches, she said, and she wants to prove she can be a good collegiate player, but “I don’t know if they’re going to come to (my) matches.”

Holmes knows how much an offer from a college coach would mean to Campanella. It also sounds like Holmes is confident that her star player will get to add a check next to that empty box soon.

“It’ll be exciting to see where she chooses,” Holmes said. “Wherever she goes, she’s going to be really successful. I’ll be so proud of her. It’s been amazing to watch her grow … I feel lucky. This is such a good group of girls. I hit the jackpot.”

 

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