Hall-Dale’s Naomi Lynch returns a shot against Orono during the Class C state championship Saturday in Lewiston. Drew Bonifant/Kennebec Journal

LEWISTON — The return sailed long, and Naomi Lynch let out a cheer and ran to the net with her fists balled in triumph.

Several other members of the Hall-Dale girls tennis team were gathered at the fence, ready to join her in celebrating a championship few could have seen coming at the start of the year.

Hall-Dale defeated Orono 4-1 in the Class C state championship match Saturday afternoon at Lewiston High School, completing an undefeated season and earning the program’s first-ever state title.

“It’s just a lot of determination and a lot of hard work, and never losing sight of the vision that we had,” Hall-Dale coach Guy Cousins said. “It’s about performing and trying to be as consistent as you can, and to battle. To be mentally tough. You’re in every point, you’re in every game, you’re in every set.

“I’ve never seen a group embrace that sort of mentality (like this). … They enjoyed every minute.”

The match couldn’t have been decided more fittingly. A win from Allie Young at third singles and another from Moira O’Connor and Jenna Lee at second doubles put Hall-Dale (14-0) up 2-1, and the Bulldogs had Lynch — their anchor all season, and a quarterfinalist in the state singles tournament — on the court to close it out.

Hall-Dale’s Kayla Lee serves against Orono during the Class C state championship Saturday in Lewiston. Drew Bonifant/Kennebec Journal

With a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Clarice Bell, Lynch got to get the party started.

“It’s disbelief,” Lynch said. “But not really, because we’ve worked so hard for this. I kept thinking all last night, ‘Who would have thought? We started off this team, I think only four of us ever having played tennis before.’ And we win a state championship? It’s crazy.”

Indeed, Hall-Dale faced long odds to get to this point at the beginning of the season. There are only nine players on the team, roughly half hadn’t played at all before the season, and Lynch and fellow captain Savannah Millay wondered if there would even be a season, let alone how one would go.

“At first, it was Sav and me trying to recruit people,” Lynch said. “We didn’t even think we’d have a team.”

The team that did assemble, however, was a good one. The Bulldogs spent all season picking each other up; when Lynch lost for the first time all season in the regional final against Waynflete, Millay won a three-set match to ensure the season didn’t end. And when Millay dropped her second singles match 6-2, 6-2 to Celia Buetens on Saturday, Lynch and the rest of the Bulldogs were ready to do their part.

“That’s the true sign of a teammate,” Cousins said. “It’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we,’ and what do we need to do that?”

Hall-Dale’s Ella Schaab returns a shot against Orono during the Class C state championship Saturday in Lewiston. Drew Bonifant/Kennebec Journal

The first win came from Young at third singles, who defeated Jasmine Chubbuck 6-2, 6-1. Young, who also earned a straight sets win against Waynflete, dropped the first game but quickly gained the upper hand and never let up.

“I really wanted to be in control of the point, and kind of set the stage for how the rest of today was going to go,” Young said. “I really think that my mindset was in a good place today. I’ve had some pretty bad matches, but this one was definitely a good one for me.”

O’Connor and Lee followed with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 win over Molly Booth and Grace Langley, rebounding from a rough second set that cast some doubt on Hall-Dale’s chances with an overwhelming third. Over on the first singles court, Lynch, already up a set, knew what her match meant.

“(I knew) if I win this, we win the state championship,” she said. “That motivated me even more. I got a boost of energy and adrenaline, and I got even stronger and started hitting more winners. I felt it, and I really wanted it.”

Ella Schaab and Kayla Lee wrapped up the victory with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win at first doubles, starting another celebration for all members of a team that was never the biggest, but was always the best.

“I’m just in shock,” Millay said. “Everybody stepped up. Everybody was a leader on the team. … They knew what they had to do, and they pulled through.”

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