Lidia Gomez Carrera went undefeated during her first year of high school tennis as a junior at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield but never got the chance to prove where her game stood compared with her statewide competition.
The native of Caceres, Spain, a city of just under 100,000 residents in the west central part of the country near its border with Portugal, was unable to participate in the 2021 state singles tournament due to COVID-related travel and quarantine mandates in the aftermath of a trip back home.
A year later, Gomez remains undefeated in high school competition while leading the MCI girls tennis team to the top spot in Class C North with a 9-1 record. This weekend she’ll get the chance to test her individual skills further as the No. 1 girls seed for the 2022 state singles tournament at Lewiston High School.
The first two rounds are scheduled for Friday, with the Round of 16 and quarterfinals on Saturday and the semifinals and championship matches on Monday.
“There were a lot of people who saw her play last year who were disappointed she couldn’t be in the tournament because they were excited to see what she could have done,” said John Buys, who coaches the MCI boys and girls tennis teams with his sister Jocelyn.
Gomez hasn’t been heavily challenged in a match this year, advancing through the Region 2 qualifying tournament without losing a game.
Her toughest competition to date has been against sixth-seeded Fabienne Nowak, an international student from Germany attending Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford whom she has defeated twice in pro-set matches.
Much of her fiercest tennis this spring has come from within the MCI program, particularly three members of the boys’ team from Italy who also have qualified for states singles play, Marco Milano, Mattia Meucci and Alberto DeGirolamo.
That trio has led the MCI boys to the No. 2 seed in Class C North with a 9-1 record.
“I’m so much better this year because I have them to play,” said Gomez, who plans to continue her studies and tennis career next year at Westcliff University in Irvine, California. “They’re at my level so we can train better with each other.”
Truth be told, Gomez more than holds her own against her male Huskies’ counterparts.
“It’s been really great for Lidia and them to all be playing with each other,” Buys said, “and I’ll be honest, Lidia kind of outschools Marco and Mattia and Alberto pretty handily.”
Buys describes Gomez’s game as one of precision through her ability to narrow her target areas to small portions of the court,
“She has a lot of variety in her game, but what I enjoy the most about her game is the amazing way she sees the court,” he said. “Her ground-stroke placement is amazing. She moves her opponents well, even in moments when I think she’s in a defensive position. It’s this great style of turning her defense into offense that creates some really spectacular tennis.”
Gomez’s path to becoming MCI’s first state singles champion will be challenged by a field of rivals led by second-seeded Coco Meserve of Brunswick and top players from northern and eastern Maine in Nowak, seventh-seeded Linda Bolten of Mount Desert Island and No. 12 Ashlyn Bouchard of Caribou.
The field could have been even deeper, but defending champion Sofia Mavor of Yarmouth opted not to play high school tennis this year after not losing a single set en route to winning the 2021 state title as a freshman.
In addition, freshman Olivia Cutone of Kennebunk High School, ranked No. 1 in the New England 16-and-under division and also nationally ranked in both that age group and the 18-and-unders, is playing this weekend at a United States Tennis Association tournament in Georgia.
Cutone’s brother George, a sophomore at Kennebunk High, is top seeded and the defending state champion in the boys field. He won his first four matches without losing a game as the No. 2 seed at states last spring before outlasting Foxcroft Academy’s Caleb Fockens in a three-set title match.
His main challenger should be second-seeded Leif Boddie, a senior from Greely High School in Cumberland Center who was the top seed last spring and reached the semifinals before falling to Fockens in straight sets.
Among the boys seeds from eastern and northern Maine are No. 6 Milano of MCI, No. 7 Sean Flynn of John Bapst in Bangor, No. 8 Unai Maldonado of Skowhegan and No. 12 Xavier Deschaine of Van Buren.
Flynn reached the Round of 16 as the 12th seed in last year’s tourney before falling to fifth-seeded Dawson Turcotte of Skowhegan in three sets. Deschaine reached the second round last spring.