Growing up in New Jersey, Bonnie Moran played tennis on public courts and became fairly adept. But after moving to Maine as a high school freshman, she wasn’t allowed to play on the boys’ team even though she could beat most of them.

Bonnie Moran has never cut a girl from her program in 12 years as the Portland High tennis coach – and has never had a losing record. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Her school, Bonny Eagle in Standish, had no girls’ tennis team at the time.

“I played other sports,” she said, “but missed tennis terribly.”

Once she earned a license and could drive into Portland, she headed to Deering Oaks to find competitive matches, and even met her husband there. So if you’re wondering why Moran, entering her 12th year as the Portland High girls’ tennis coach, juggles a program that usually numbers around three dozen, it’s because she doesn’t turn anyone away.

“I have a huge goal of making tennis accessible to as many kids as possible,” Moran said. “We have a lot of kids at Portland High who can’t afford to go and take lessons, and this may be the only way they learn to play. I know a bunch of them are never going to make varsity but if they get the fundamentals, they’ll have it for the rest of their lives.”

The Bulldogs never have won a girls’ tennis state title but also never have had a losing season under Moran. Her streak of success almost ended last spring when the regular season ended at 6-6, but Portland, seeded sixth in Class A South, shut out No. 11 South Portland and avenged a pair of in-season defeats by knocking off No. 3 Cheverus and No. 7 Thornton Academy – both by scores of 3-2 – before falling 4-1 in the regional final against Falmouth, which went on to an 11th straight state title.

“I think we all just had a renewed sense of confidence and determination,” said Portland senior Lauren Paradise, who returns at No. 1 singles for a third straight season. “During the regular season we were kind of disappointed with how it worked out. We all felt we were a lot better than our record showed and we really wanted to prove that in the playoffs. And that’s what ended up happening.”

Senior Lauren Paradise returns at No. 1 singles for the third straight season for Portland High. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Paradise, who wears a golf glove to ward off blisters and holds a black belt in karate, said part of Portland’s success is rooted in the inclusive nature of the program. She remembers feeling slightly overwhelmed as a freshman playing singles because she was surrounded by seniors. She also played volleyball and said the tennis dynamic was different.

“What stood out to me was how much more welcoming everyone on the tennis team was,” she said. “We’ve always welcomed anyone regardless of their ability or their grade level. To have so many people have the opportunity to learn tennis – where other schools might weed people out and kick people off the team – that’s something that (Moran) and the team really prides ourselves on, giving everyone an opportunity to play.”

Paradise and Portland’s other captains often stick around for the junior varsity practice to feed balls or run drills. Players not on the varsity often come to matches to support those in the top seven. Such mutual support can make the difference in a tight match at second doubles, such as when Erin Chadbourne and Rose Watson, now juniors, fended off three match points on the way to a three-set victory in the regional semifinal against Thornton Academy, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5.

“We were really down,” Watson said. “Erin was having problems with the heat. I think there was even some crying after (losing) the second set.”

“We didn’t think we were going to win that,” Chadbourne said. “It was a two-hour match and we won it, and I remember feeling so happy. I was like, this is what I want to feel when I’m playing, really putting in all your effort.”

Chadbourne and Watson will remain as one doubles team, and senior Hannah Smith, whose partner graduated, will team with classmate Kate Bourque. All four are experienced in SMAA competition and can remain in doubles because Paradise and senior Karina Boothe are back in the top two singles spots, and freshman Jenna Lederer has emerged to fill in the hole at No. 3 singles.

Falmouth may not be too worried about Portland, but both Paradise (in the playoffs) and Boothe (in the regular season) won singles matches against their Falmouth counterparts. That 173-match winning streak will end sometime, right?

“It’s been kind of circulating that they are more vulnerable than they have been in previous years,” Paradise said. “So I think we’re really hoping to take advantage of that in the coming season, and I’m sure other teams are looking to do the same.”

“We know that they’re very good,” Chadbourne said, “but that just makes us want to work harder and maybe (produce) an upset that nobody saw coming.”