PITTSFIELD – There’s a foreign sound – a lot of them, actually – at the tennis courts at Manson Park this spring.
Whenever the Maine Central Institute boys tennis team is practicing these days, much of the conversation isn’t being conducted in English. Instead, there’s an Italian chime that can be heard throughout the four courts just a stone’s throw from the Sebasticook River.
Like other New England boarding schools, MCI has long been known for enrolling foreign-exchange student-athletes across multiple sports. That’s been the case again this year with the team’s three Italian standouts – Marco Milano, Mattia Meucci and Alberto Di Girolamo – all qualifying for the upcoming state singles tournament.
“All three (of us) play very good together, and we work together and help each other,” said Meucci, MCI’s No. 2 singles player. “We can communicate with each other, and we’re already great teammates. It’s a good experience. “
Milano, Meucci and Di Girolamo, all seniors, have been the top three players for MCI throughout the season. The arrival of the trio has powered the 6-1 Huskies, who have lost just one game over the past six matches after beginning the season with a loss to Waterville.
Their arrival at MCI together was one of sheer coincidence. With Milano from Catanzaro, a city of roughly 100,000 in southern Italy, Meucci from Florence and Di Girolamo from Rome, the three had not met one another prior to arriving at the Pittsfield school for the 2021-22 school year.
“We did not know each other when we got here, but when we (found out we’d each have two other Italian teammates), it was exciting,” said Di Girolamo, who plays No. 3 singles for the Huskies. “We’re all very excited to represent our country here in America.”
All three players, MCI co-coach Jocelyn Buys said, have polished, well-rounded games. From their powerful serves to their reliable backhands to their strong general knowledge of the game, there are so many ways the trio can overpower opponents.
“They’re so much fun in general, and it’s especially fun to watch them,” Buys said. “They have good attitudes and are great off the court, and on the court, they’re just so skilled that there’s only so much we can do for them in terms of coaching. They’re great kids to have. “
Milano, Meucci and Di Girolamo have all been playing in leagues and clubs in their home country since they were young. Playing together on a high school team, though, has been a different experience, one they have immensely enjoyed.
“So far, it’s the best experience of my life,” Meucci said. “I’ve been playing tennis since I was 4, but to play on a team like this is so much fun. It’s great, and all three of us love it. “
All three easily placed in the singles tournament’s opening round with strong performances in the Region II qualifiers Saturday at Hampden Academy. That experience helped acquaint them with some other top players in the region, many of whom they’ll be seeing in the next stages of the tournament next weekend.
“It was a beautiful experience to take the trip there to (Hampden) and meet so many new players,” Meucci said. “It was great for us to go there and see all the different people. We really enjoyed it so much. “
Elsewhere locally, the Mt. Blue boys also have three local qualifiers in Bernardo Tovar, James Stinson and Carson Zendel. Other central Maine qualifiers are Skowhegan’s Unai Moldonado and Drake Turcotte; Erskine Academy’s Devon Polley; Waterville’s Nick Poulin; Carrabec’s Luke Carey; and Madison’s Isaac Ouellette.
On the girls side, Maranacook (Claire Dwyer and Marielle Kane) and Waterville (Kiera Gilman and Emily Campbell) boast two singles qualifiers. Other local girls qualifiers are MCI’s Lidia Gomez; Cony’s Claudia Dunn; Erskine’s Julia Barber; Gardiner’s Haylie Peacock; Messalonskee’s Camdyn Lamarre; Hall-Dale’s Allie Young; Mt. Blue’s Grace Bell; and Winthrop’s Sophie Blanco.
The state singles tournament will be held May 20-23 at Lewiston High School. The Round of 52 and Round of 32 will be held on May 20 with the Round of 16 and quarterfinals following on the 21. The semifinals and championship matches following on May 23.
“We’re ready to go there and play our best,” Milano said. “It would be good if we could make the semifinals, all three of us.”
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