George Cutone of Kennebunk won the state singles title as a freshman and also helped the Rams to a 16-0 record and team state championship. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Of all the aspects that impressed Kennebunk boys’ tennis coach Paul Gaylord about freshman George Cutone – footwork, shot-making ability, resiliency – the thing that stood out most had nothing to do with racquet skills.

“Funny but to me, it’s what a great teammate he was,” Gaylord said. “Everybody loves George. He’s supportive, self-effacing, just a great teammate. He makes everyone feel better.”

George Cutone of Kennebunk, a 5-4, 120-pound freshman, says good positioning and hard work are keys to his success. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

With Cutone atop the ladder, a Kennebunk team Gaylord figured would be rebuilding with an entirely new singles lineup wound up Class A state champion for the first time in program history, with a perfect 16-0 record.

Cutone (pronounced coo-toe-knee) also navigated his way to the state singles title, winning his first four matches 6-0, 6-0 before pulling out a tight championship match against Foxcroft Academy senior Caleb Fockens, the tournament’s fourth seed, by a score of 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.

For all of that, Cutone is our choice as Varsity Maine Player of the Year for boys’ tennis.

“They were equally gratifying,” Cutone said of the individual and team titles. “Each year I set a six-month goal, and (the singles tournament) was it. So succeeding in that, especially after being down the first set, gave me a massive boost of confidence.”

Fockens, who played his first two years of high school in southern Connecticut before moving to Maine, presented an interesting contrast. Standing at nearly 6-foot-2, Fockens had almost 10 inches on Cutone as well as a wider wingspan.

However, the 5-4, 120-pound freshman “moves incredibly well,” Fockens said. “It’s been a while since I’ve played someone as athletic and aggressive on the court as him.”

Gaylord said Cutone makes the most of his abilities through technique and timing. His footwork borders on balletic.

“He’s always in good position to hit a ball,” Gaylord said. “He knows how to get the most out of his body. He throws his hips through, his shoulder. It’s amazing some of the shots he’ll hit.”

Cutone attributes some of that agility to a background in gymnastics and continuing participation in soccer. He made the Kennebunk varsity last fall in soccer, runs regularly and does footwork drills along with his younger siblings, Olivia and Alberto.

It was Alberto who first caught the tennis bug, and his older brother and sister quickly followed. Their dad, Steve, hung a rope from a tree branch in their backyard and attached a tennis ball.

“We had these junky old racquets and just whacked the ball,” George Cutone said. “We’d see who could hit it the highest. That’s how it all started.”

It continues to be a family affair. Olivia won the women’s open division of the Betty Blakeman Memorial Tournament two years ago at age 12. She will join George in high school this fall, with Alberto due to arrive a year later.

George, who turns 16 in August, recently advanced to the quarterfinals of a USTA Sectional tournament at Brandeis University near Boston. He is ranked 20th in New England among boys 16-and-under.

The fact that he often plays against physically superior opponents doesn’t bother him. In fact, he thrives on his underdog status. Picture Roger Federer against the 6-foot-10 John Isner, Cutone said, or if not Federer, then 5-foot-7 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, who has beaten Rafael Nadal on clay at the Italian Open.

“It’s more the skill level and how you understand the game,” Cutone said. “It’s about movement and how smart you are on the court. If you can outsmart and outwork people, you can win no matter how tall you are.”

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